There is risk in everything we do. Yes, American football, like every other sport on every level, is a game. What players go through to train and constantly improve, to make a difference on the field and be a productive part of their team-family is not a game.

Our bodies are fragile and even the toughest of warriors are only made of flesh and bone. Our humanity, however… the thoughts and hopes; the feelings of joy when the home team triumphs and of sorrow and frustration when they are defeated… give us more than just the win or loss of a game. We are emotionally invested in the players. They are our players, our opponents, our teams.

Everyone who watched or heard about Buffalo Bills safety, Damar Hamlin’s collapse on the field, barely halfway into the first quarter of the game felt the same terrible panic: What happened? Will he make it? How can they continue to play? What happens next? The scene of players surrounding Hamlin, as if to protect him from further damage, or to give him privacy, or to somehow help him through sheer willpower, was incredibly powerful and emotional. There was no doubt in my mind that the game could not continue that night.

As a player, getting ready for game day means having a good night’s sleep, eating healthy meals, staying hydrated, and getting the muscles ready to do what you have trained for. The training began a long, long time ago- years and years ago. A lifetime of learning how to fuel and condition your body for periods of incredibly intense physical work. On game day, your mind is ready for the strategy of the competition. This game, this field, these teammates, these opponents, right now. When something happens to break that focus- a life-threatening emergency that stops everyone in their tracks (on the field, in the stands, and millions of tv viewers), it is just not reasonable to expect anyone to return to playing football. As a viewer on Monday night, I could not think about watching the game continue. For the players, it would have been impossible.

With increased attention on player safety and concussion protocol, it is important not to forget about players’ mental and emotional health. Witnessing this type of traumatic event can have long-lasting effects. Damar Hamlin is not the first person to be injured during a sporting event, and he will certainly not be the last one. The emotional response to Hamlin’s situation won’t just go away. We need to talk. We need to cope. We need to seek help if we need it. This was not just a game. This was a reminder of how important we are to each other.

Mindi Garrett
Football fan and player