The good news, of course, is that doctor’s have removed Buffalo Bill safety Damar Hamlin‘s breathing tube, he has communicated with his teammates via FaceTime, and though he has a long road to full recovery, he seems to be out of existential danger after suffering a cardiac arrest Monday night in Cincinnati in an important NFL game between his Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals.

Since that frightening episode, there has been an outpouring of support and prayers for the 24-year-old football player. His Buffalo charity that delivers toys to children has seen donations soar to over $7 million with over 224,000 contributors.

But within the compassionate response, my natural cynicism also senses an underling, but unspoken, guilt about for how addicted to American football we are, including to the car-crash quality of the hits on display, and the injuries that come from them. 

The irony is that the hit that seems to have caused the cardiac arrest in Damar Hamlin was not the kind usually found on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Day. Instead, it was just freakish: the right force, in the right place, at the wrong time, between heartbeats, is what put young Mr. Hamlin’s life in danger after he took down Bengals’ wideout Tee Higgins

It is also interesting, don’t you think, that until the widespread delivery of football on television, beginning with the 1958 NFL championship game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts, the first overtime game in NFL championship history, baseball was America’s pastime, not football.

Baseball is a pastoral game, a leisurely game with the only violence being bat against ball. Oh, occasionally, a pitcher zips one close on the chin of a batter. Or a base runner slides into second base with his spikes up. But baseball, by its nature, is not a violent game.

Football, on the other hand, serves up violent collisions on every play, with the orchestration of that violence among 22 moving pieces on offense and defense being what so attracts our attention and passion. NFL games produced 22 of the top 25 prime-time telecasts of 2022, with the college football championship (#9), one night of the Winter Olympics (#10), and the Oscars (#23), filling the other three positions.

To be shocked by Damar Hamlin’s near-death experience on the field Monday night, and now to witness the outpouring of sympathy and prayers and support for him, seems to be a way of saying “we’re sorry for loving this game as much as we do”, because it can lead to an episode like this. But, like Tom Brady, we remain addicted to it, despite the wreckage and ruin.



Whatever you may think of Tom Brady now that he has officially announced his retirement from the NFL; whether you think of him as the GOAT (greatest of all time); or you believe off-field controversies like Deflategate and Spygate tarnished his (and the New England Patriots) image as the All-American boy next door; the one thing that is unassailable has been the joy that he has exhibited throughout his 22-year professional football career. 

But it wasn’t just the joy he found for himself. It was his ability to precipitate the same feeling in his teammates, and their fans, and the concomitant competitive passions he aroused in his competitors, too. Didn’t matter which side of the ball you were on, the man was a force multiplier.

Gronk & Brady after Super Bowl LV (55)

Even at age 44, after 22 competitive seasons in a brutally violent sport, Brady played with the unabashed joy of a 10-year-old out on an open field with his buddies, like Peter Pan in a helmet and pads. 

And isn’t joy what makes sport such an important tool in teaching a proper way of living? Because it is in the doing alone that we discover the critical reward, not in the accolades or prizes that may come from it. 

As runners, whether as freshmen on the high school cross-country team, or all the way to the Olympic level, it is the baseline joy of free flowing through space with a self-generated wind in our hair, that produces the passion that supports the commitment that overcomes the injuries that salves the losses and exhilarates us in our wins. 

The question for Tom Brady now is, what else can elicit that same feeling? 

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