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How ESPN Covered Damar Hamlin's Scary Medical Emergency Deserves Praise

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel

ESPN has been kicked in the teeth in recent years. They went hardcore on the political correctness gambit. They went "woke" and, in turn, lost millions of subscribers. A flurry of reports about how employees faked being liberal to keep their jobs followed, which earned some credence when longtime anchor Linda Cohn was suspended in 2017 for admitting that the sports network's left-wing political views contributed to a subscriber exodus. 

Yet, this week, the network wasn't exhibiting left-wing bias on Monday Night Football. They did something that had made ESPN the flagship of sports journalism: cover what's been described as a nearly unprecedented event that led to the indefinite suspension of the Bills-Bengals game. 

It wasn't supposed to happen this way on Monday night. The Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals are already playoff-bound. The Bills are once again AFC East champions. The Bengals could have clinched the AFC North with a win over the Bills last night, but a scary medical episode put that on hold. Bills' safety Damar Hamlin collapsed in the first quarter following a tackle on Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins. Hamlin wasn't winded or concussed. He suffered a severe, life-threatening medical situation that led to CPR being performed for at least 10 minutes before being whisked away in an ambulance. 

I love this game, but I know it's one of the most brutal in the professional sports world. There's a reason why people say NFL stands for "not for long." The average career is only two seasons, with players susceptible to every injury under the sun. The last half of the season is when players are just trying to keep their bodies from breaking down. The health of these players was put front-and-center last night with Hamlin's medical emergency, with commentators and every team around the league rallying around the young safety, offering support and prayers to his family. 

Were some segments a bit too self-aggrandizing for some of the network's contributors? Arguably, yes, but overall—the network covered this traumatic event well, making points that weren't soaked in political bias. Then again, anyone with cognitive function would know that making such points would be unprofessional to the nth degree, along with being heinously unseemly. Hall of Fame quarterback and MNF color commentator Troy Aikman called the event "unprecedented," and the network handled it well. Play-by-play announcer Joe Buck also summed up the event well, "There's just nothing to say" (via WaPo):

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.

The game was over. The post-game segments about the statistics, who played well, and what this means for the postseason all stopped. It was now about updating the public on the health and status of Hamlin, who remains in critical condition. There will be other times to kick around ESPN for peddling liberal nonsense. Last night was not one of them.

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