On Monday night, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, in the course of what appeared to be a routine tackle, received a hard hit to the chest. He got up from the turf, stepped backward, then collapsed.
Since his fall, the public has fixated on Hamlin’s condition. By the time the game was officially suspended with 5:58 left in the first quarter, it had become the most watched “Monday Night Football” game in ESPN history. The story was front page news on the New York Times for three consecutive days, matching the coverage devoted to the vote for House Speaker and the war in Ukraine . Hamlin’s online toy drive, which had a goal of $2,500 before his collapse, soon topped $8 million in donations. President Biden called Hamlin’s parents to offer support, then tweeted about it.
Why the fascination? Damar Hamlin is a well-respected and well-liked athlete, but he hardly qualifies as a superstar. He was a 6th round draft pick in 2021, and was used sparingly in his rookie year. He did not win a starting position until September, when his teammate Micah Hyde suffered a neck injury. It is safe to say that before his collapse, few sports fans outside Buffalo knew much about him. Yet he has become a national celebrity, with millions of people, including many who do not even follow football, keeping up with the daily medical updates and praying for his recovery.
The answer may lie in the trade that we strike with the superbly conditioned men and women who entertain us by playing professional sports. They are our heroes. But they are not our gods. The distinction is important and relevant to the trade.