By Rabbi Charles Arian
I had never heard the name Damar Hamlin until last Monday night when I noticed a lot of my Facebook friends posting that they were praying for him and so on. I went to Google News, typed in his name, and learned that he was a Buffalo Bills football player who collapsed on the field, had to receive both CPR and defibrillation, and had been transported to a hospital in Cincinnati.
I have to confess that I am not remotely a football fan and have not watched a game other than a Super Bowl in several decades. On occasion I have watched a Super Bowl as a social occasion but have frankly been more interested in the chicken wings and subs than the game itself.
I played one season of “Pop Warner” youth football in elementary school and decided it was not for me. I spent my high school years constantly declining requests from the football coach that I go out for the team so that I could be an offensive lineman.
But the final nail in the coffin of any interest in football was when I was the Hillel director at the University of Virginia in the early 1990s. At the time U.Va. had one of the top ranked teams in the country. I lived within walking distance of Scott Stadium where the team’s home games were played and I was given a ticket to one of the games which was in one of the first rows of the stadium. To this day I recall the noises of the offensive and defensive linemen hitting each other.Football is an incredibly violent sport. While injuries occur in basketball, baseball and soccer as well, football rewards violent contact whereas the other sports penalize it. We have seen so many retired football players suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) which on occasion has lead to violent crimes as well as suicides. While there may be ways to make the game somewhat safer, sportswriters and fans complain that the proposed changes would make the game less exciting and change its fundamental nature.
I’m reminded of the Bob Dylan song “Who Killed Davey Moore?” from 1963 which recounted the death of a boxer in the ring. Everybody involved explains that what happened, while tragic, was not their fault. I’Il join in the prayers for Damar Hamlin’s recovery but wonder if we need to do some reconsideration of football and its place in our society. ■
Rabbi Charles Arian leads Kehilat Shalom in Gaithersburg. Reprinted from his blog by permission.