How ESPN Viewers Learned of Damar Hamlin’s Injury

From a Washington Post story by Ben Struass headlined “How ESPN viewers learned of Damar Hamlin’s injury”:

The eerie and heartbreaking scene that unfolded on the field in the aftermath of Damar Hamlin’s collapse during Monday night’s Cincinnati Bengals-Buffalo Bills game presented a nearly unprecedented scenario for ESPN’s football broadcast. In a surreal scene, bouncing between the game broadcast crew in Cincinnati and a subdued studio set, a network that had prepared to cover one of the season’s biggest games suddenly found itself covering a medical calamity.

Viewers at home watched the developing story unfold slowly, as commentators Joe Buck and Troy Aikman and sideline reporter Lisa Salters received information and relayed it in real time.

The telecast initially cut to a series of commercials as Hamlin was first attended to, common practice after injuries during NFL games.

After that break, the telecast showed the replay of Hamlin tackling Cincinnati’s Tee Higgins, standing up, wobbling, then collapsing. ESPN soon cut to another commercial.

The telecast returned to show an ambulance on the field. Bills quarterback Josh Allen was shown with his face in his hands, while several of his teammates were shown stunned or in tears. “There’s just nothing to say,” said Buck, the play-by-play voice, before the telecast went to commercial again.

The telecast returned with a report from Salters, who said medical personnel had been working on Hamlin for nine minutes, but that the extent of the injury was unknown. Buck told viewers that medical staff had been administering CPR as the camera showed faces of Bills teammates. The telecast went to commercial again.

The game returned to show a wide shot of the players gathered around Hamlin. The players, Buck said, were so tight around Hamlin that cameras couldn’t show him. “Maybe that’s for the best,” Buck said.

The camera showed star Buffalo receiver Stefon Diggs with what appeared to be a tear running down his cheek.

The telecast then went to the studio, where Suzy Kolber, former player Booger McFarland and reporter Adam Schefter offered somber reaction in what became the centerpiece of ESPN’s coverage. McFarland suggested multiple times over the course of the next hour that the game should be postponed.

“We’ve never seen anything like that before,” McFarland said at one point. “As a player, played nine years in the league, I broke plenty of bones, got banged up, been carted off. I’ve been there. During all of those times, my teammates never had to worry about life and death. They never had to worry about that. When you’re giving CPR to a young man, you’re worried about life and death, because he can’t breathe, and I think that’s where the tone, the facial expressions, the sensitivity from all the teammates from both teams, I’ve never seen that before. I don’t think any of these players have ever seen that before. That brings about a whole different emotion, that none of us have ever been a part of.”

An hour after the game was first suspended, ESPN announced the game had been suspended for the night.

“No one’s experienced anything like this,” Aikman said later. “ … It really is unprecedented. The gravity of the situation became very clear very soon.”

Ben Strauss covers sports and media for The Washington Post.

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