The NFL as a whole is dealing with an unprecedented scare involving Damar Hamlin, and head coach Mike McCarthy wants to make sure everyone knows what takes priority this week
FRISCO, TX — Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest in the Monday night matchup between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals, requiring CPR for several minutes to regain a heartbeat before being transported to a local hospital where, though there has been some progress made in his condition, he remains sedated and in critical condition at this time.
For the entire NFL, including the Dallas Cowboys, it's a terrifying reminder of the risks associated with playing the sport, worsened by the rarity and suddenness of what occurred at Paycor Stadium; an event that led to the indefinite suspension of play for that contest.
But with no changes having been made to the Week 18 slate of games, the Cowboys and all others must traverse disturbing waters as they work to balance preparation for key games with the mental and spiritual well-being of players and coaches alike.
"I wanna start off by just expressing care and concern for Damar Hamlin [and] his family," said McCarthy ahead of Cowboys practice on Wednesday. "His teammates — the Bills organization, Cincinnati and their football team, their organization. I think anybody that's ever been through something like this, it's very impactful. And obviously we're in thoughts and prayers for a full recovery."
It's a line McCarthy is making sure the Cowboys walk carefully and thoughtfully, particularly considering he experienced a similar tragedy in his time as assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers in 2005 — when offensive lineman Thomas Herrion collapsed in the locker room following a preseason game before passing away, and when more tragedy later struck him as head coach of the Cowboys.
In 2020, Cowboys strength and conditioning coach Markus Paul had a medical emergency at team headquarters and passed away the following day.
The promising news is that recent statements made by the family and those permitted to speak on behalf of them paint an image of progress being made by Hamlin, but he's not out of the woods yet. So as he continues his fight, the Cowboys brought in their team chaplain for spiritual guidance.
"It's definitely a heavy, sensitive day here," said McCarthy. "We spent a good amount of time talking about it this morning in our team meeting. Our Chaplain, Johnathan Evans, was very insightful. His spiritual guidance was what we needed to hear. Frankly, like anything, when you get in tough times, you just have to make sure you get some resources lined up and everybody's keeping an eye on one another."
Needless to say, mental health is paramount at a time such as this.
"Let's be honest, nobody's fine," McCarthy admitted. "I think we all have a tendency to say we're good. So, that's where our mind is, and that's where our focus is. We also know what's in front of us professionally, but our spirituality playbook was open today."
Up next for the Cowboys is a final matchup against the Washington Commanders with a chance to move up from the No. 5 seed to possibly the No. 2 or even the No. 1 seat in the NFC, and while they're all-in on winning the game — to sweep the Commanders in the process — preparation for what lies ahead is being married to respect for what's happening in real time to Hamlin as the safety continues to fight for his life in an intensive care unit.
"You don't really think about Sunday right now," said McCarthy. "I mean, it's Wednesday, and we have a schedule of things we need to do today and that's happening. You know, I have great confidence that we will get done when we need it. But, most importantly, and stating the obvious, but if we need to adjust, we'll adjust. This is an important game, but it's clearly about what's most important right now.
"Our focus is on one another and making sure we're pushing the prayers out there to Damar and his family, because this NFL community is very tight. You're no further than one person removed from anybody in this community, and so this hits close to home with a number of our players. We've all been talking about our experiences the last couple of days.
"…Our thoughts and prayers are with him, and we're hoping for full recovery."