Sports

With Heavy Hearts, N.F.L. Players Prepare to Go Back to Work

With Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin still in critical condition at a Cincinnati hospital after his collapse during a game on Monday night, N.F.L. teams prepared to return to practice, somehow, for the last games of a regular season that suddenly felt stripped of joy.

The family of Hamlin, 24, a second-year player who suffered cardiac arrest during a nationally televised game against the Cincinnati Bengals, asked for prayers. The most recent update from the Bills on Hamlin’s condition was a statement on Tuesday afternoon that said he was still receiving care in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Week 18 will begin on Saturday, but players and coaches across the league were still reeling from Hamlin’s collapse and anxiously waiting for updates on his condition.

“I’m praying that you pull through bro,” Bengals receiver Tee Higgins, the player Hamlin tackled before he collapsed, wrote on Twitter hours after the game was suspended. “Keep fighting 3,” Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox posted, referring to his former teammate at the University of Pittsburgh by his jersey number. Some of the N.F.L.’s biggest stars, including Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Arizona defensive end J.J. Watt, openly pleaded for Hamlin to be OK.

In a memo sent to teams on Tuesday, N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell said the game between the Bills and the Bengals would not resume this week and no decision had been made about when or whether it would be rescheduled. The N.F.L. has also not announced any changes to the Week 18 schedule.

More Coverage of Damar Hamlin’s Collapse

  • N.F.L.’s Violent Spectacle: The appetite for football has never been higher, even as viewers look past the sport’s toll on players’ lives. Damar Hamlin’s collapse should force a reconsideration, our columnist writes.
  • Outpouring of Support: Athletes, public figures and fans took to social media to share prayers and concern for Mr. Hamlin, while thousands donated to a GoFundMe page he had set up for a toy drive.
  • Injury Disclosures: The N.F.L.’s protocols for dealing with the health consequences of football are heavily scrutinized, but the league typically makes public only certain information about injuries.

As a result, players are expected to return to work on Wednesday just 36 hours after Hamlin’s medical emergency — the most serious the N.F.L. has seen in decades — unfolded in front of millions of viewers.

Hamlin, left, collapsed after tackling wide receiver Tee Higgins of the Cincinnati Bengals.Credit…Joshua A. Bickel/Associated Press

Ryan Clark, a retired N.F.L. safety who is now an analyst for ESPN, wrote on social media that “the next snap of football will be one of the scariest snaps we have ever watched.”

Nyaka NiiLampti, the N.F.L.’s vice president of wellness and clinical services, sent information on Tuesday to each of the league’s 32 teams about available mental health and support resources, according to Goodell’s memo. Teams may also request additional resources, such as on-site services, the memo said.

Teams around the league found ways to express their support for Hamlin. Each team changed the avatar of its Twitter account to an image of Hamlin’s No. 3 Bills jersey with the message, “Pray for Damar.” The Miami Dolphins posted a photo of their stadium lit up in the Bills’ blue and red on Tuesday night.

The Eagles and the Patriots canceled coaches’ press availabilities on Tuesday, while Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin opened his news conference by talking about his personal connection with Hamlin, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area.

Tuesdays are usually off days for players around the league, though with games scheduled for this Saturday, some teams were on the practice field this week. The Tennessee Titans, who are scheduled to play the Jacksonville Jaguars Saturday night, spent time in a team meeting Tuesday talking about Hamlin and praying for him and his family.

This is usually one of the most exciting weeks during the N.F.L. season, with teams jockeying for postseason bids or more favorable seeding. The Bills and the Bengals met on Monday night with the No. 1 seed in the A.F.C. and a first-round bye still in reach for both teams. Hamlin’s collapse rendered those stakes relatively unimportant.

If the Week 18 schedule remains intact, both teams will take the field again on Sunday, with the Bills hosting the New England Patriots and the Bengals set to host the Baltimore Ravens.

The N.F.L. has rescheduled games before. In 2001, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the league postponed all of its Week 2 games until the end of the regular season. During the 2020 season, the N.F.L. rescheduled 15 regular-season games because of coronavirus outbreaks among teams but completed the season on time.

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