The NFL announced Thursday that it will not reschedule the AFC faceoff between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals after safety Damar Hamlin suffered a terrifying collapse and subsequent cardiac arrest during Monday Night Football earlier this week.
The good news is that Hamlin survived the ordeal and is able to communicate in writing, although he is not yet able to speak. One of his teammates described him Wednesday as “awake and showing more signs of improvement.”
“You won the game of life.” ❤️🙏
Doctors from UC Medical Center speak to the progress they’re seeing from Damar Hamlin. pic.twitter.com/EI6SW74aLo
— NFL (@NFL) January 5, 2023
The game was canceled an hour after the incident, as neither players nor coaches wanted to continue when they didn’t even know if Hamlin was going to survive.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell explained the emotions at league headquarters:
“This has been a very difficult week,” Goodell said. “We continue to focus on the recovery of Damar Hamlin and are encouraged by the improvements in his condition as well as the tremendous outpouring of support and care for Damar and his family from across the country. We are also incredibly appreciative of the amazing work of the medical personnel and commend each and every one of them.”
Goodell consulted with the Bills, the Bengals, and the NFL Players Association leadership when deciding to cancel the game altogether. NFL.com explains his reasoning:
Not playing the Buffalo-Cincinnati game to its conclusion will have no effect on which clubs qualify for the postseason. No club would qualify for the postseason and no club will be eliminated based on the outcome of this game.
It would require postponing the start of the playoffs for one week, thereby affecting all 14 clubs that qualify for postseason play.
Making the decision prior to Week 18 is consistent with our competitive principles and enables all clubs to know the playoff possibilities prior to playing the final weekend of regular season games.
Week 17 Buffalo-Cincinnati game will not be resumed. Clubs to consider neutral site AFC Championship game.
Full statement: pic.twitter.com/NwqUwxlbzo
— NFL (@NFL) January 6, 2023
Many people have opined that no one should even talk about future games after such a tragic moment, but the truth is at some point decisions still have to be made. Now was a good time, in my opinion.
The NFL then lays out a bunch of complicated potential playoff scenarios which you can delve into here. Goodell recognized that no outcome was going to please all people:
“As we considered the football schedule, our principles have been to limit disruption across the league and minimize competitive inequities,” Goodell said. “I recognize that there is no perfect solution. The proposal we are asking the ownership to consider, however, addresses the most significant potential equitable issues created by the difficult, but necessary, decision not to play the game under these extraordinary circumstances.”
This is the correct call, both from a competitive position and from a humanitarian one. In terms of football, finding a way to play the game would create all sorts of scheduling headaches that would affect some teams more than others and would lead to competitive chaos.
More importantly, however, it would have been heartless to Hamlin, the players, and the fans to force a re-do in what would have been one of the most awkward games ever. These guys need a chance to re-group, be there for their teammate, and process what they just went through.
The NFL takes a lot of criticism—some of it justified—but in this one, they’ve handled things in a classy and respectful manner.
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