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'Did We Win?'

Damar Hamlin is a football guy.

New England Patriots (23) Vs. Buffalo Bills (35) At Highmark Stadium
Orchard Park, NY - January 8: Buffalo Bills fans hold up signs in support of Damar Hamlin during their regular season finale against the New England Patriots. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Fans and players were stunned when Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed to the turf in the first half of last week's Sunday Night Football game against the Cincinnati Bengals after a routine tackle triggered a cardiac episode. The Bills' athletic training staff quickly administered CPR and applied an AED, which saved Hamlin's cognitive functioning, and probably his life.

Hamlin was rushed off the field in an ambulance. Players on both teams stood around in apparent shock, with quarterbacks Josh Allen and Joe Burrow appearing emotional by the sideline. After a five-minute delay, Bengals players prepared to resume play. Bengals coach Zac Taylor conferenced with Bills coach Sean McDermott, who apparently indicated his team didn't want to play, given the situation. Both teams retreated to their locker rooms, and within an hour, the commissioner's office had suspended the game.

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The game featured two AFC heavyweights angling for the number-one seed and a first-round playoff bye. Entering the contest, the Bills were 11-3 and the Bengals 10-4, with the winner potentially able to challenge the Kansas City Chiefs for the conference's top seed with a win and Chiefs loss. Because the game had such significant playoff implications, not only for Buffalo and Cincinnati but for other AFC contenders whose seedings depended in part on the outcome of the Bills-Bengals matchup, the NFL and NFL Players Association discussed several potential resolutions, including expanding the playoff field, adding another week to the schedule to replay the Bills-Bengals game, or declaring the game a "no contest," which the league decided to do. As a "no contest" outcome, the game would not count, and any stats recorded would be nullified. After the results of Week 18, Kansas City Chiefs were awarded the one seed. The AFC Championship Game will be played at a neutral site should the Bills and Bengals make the conference championship.

Everyone's immediate concern was, of course, for Hamlin and his health. It was not at all clear that he was going to survive, and there was a non-negligible chance he could suffer permanent neurological damage from the episode. The message on Twitter and elsewhere in response to Hamlin's injury was that it was inconsiderate and immoral to even mention the implications of cancelling the game, particularly as Hamlin was still unconscious. When the sports commentator Skip Bayless wondered on Twitter "how" the NFL could postpone the rest of the game given its "magnitude"—immediately adding that such concerns were "irrelevant" in light of Hamlin's health—he was universally panned by athletes and commentators, with one critic saying Bayless's tweet "goes to show how some dehumanize professional athletes, especially Black athletes."

Bayless should have led the tweet noting his concern for the young man in critical condition, not fretting about the competitive implications of a forfeit. But the question he asked was relevant, not least to Damar Hamlin, whose first question to doctors upon waking up was, "Did we win?"

Hamlin, as the saying goes, is a football guy.

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