The outpouring of support for Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin continued Wednesday as NFL teams returned to practice for the first time since Hamlin went into cardiac arrest and was resuscitated on the field during a “Monday Night Football” broadcast.
Hamlin, 24, remained sedated and in critical condition in a Cincinnati hospital. His recovery was moving in “a positive direction,” Hamlin’s marketing representative said Wednesday.
“We all remain optimistic,” Jordon Rooney told the Associated Press, adding that he was unable to go into further detail about Hamlin’s status at the request of the family.
Chargers and Rams players and coaches expressed their support and said they prayed for Hamlin and his family.
Several Chargers coaches have ties to Hamlin.
Coach Brandon Staley said he recruited a teenage Hamlin as an assistant at John Carroll University. Defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill coached Hamlin at Pittsburgh, when Hill was an assistant coaching defensive backs. Receivers coach Chris Beatty was also a Pitt assistant during Hamlin’s time there.
“This is a great kid,” Staley said. “It’s a little bit more personal because you know this guy.”
The Chargers brought in Dr. Eugene Yim, their team physician, to talk to the players and tell them the specifics of what happened on the play. Team chaplain George Gregory and team clinician Dr. Herb Martin also attended.
“The big thing is telling them the truth of what happened, what actually happened on the field from a medical perspective,” Staley said.
Hamlin collapsed after tackling Bengals receiver Tee Higgins. Yim described the incident as “being struck by lightning,” Chargers defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day said.
“The chances of that happening were so minute,” Joseph-Day said. “It was just a freak accident. Learning about it, talking about it with your brothers and just praying for Damar, I think, those things help athletes get through it.”
Linebacker Drue Tranquill said he was in shock when he saw the play and aftermath.
“You realize that it could have been you,” he said. “We know what it’s like to see a brother, a teammate go down due to injury. But to see a life-or-death scenario unfold on national TV before our eyes? It’s heavy.”
Last season, tight end Donald Parham Jr. suffered a significant concussion during a nationally televised game and was hospitalized for a few days. Parham said Hamlin’s situation brought back memories.
“I caught myself feeling like, ‘Dang, that was me last year, out there on the field feeling hopeless,'” he said. “We have faith that he will be back and be healthier than ever.”
Rams coach Sean McVay addressed Hamlin’s situation at the outset of a team meeting, and players also met in smaller groups.
“The most important thing is understanding that this is bigger than football,” McVay said. “How do they feel? How can we equip them with the necessary resources and support to work through these types of things?
“You don’t ever want to become numb to these types of things, but you want to make sure that you’re understanding and you’re there for these guys and you’re setting them up whether it’s just being a listening ear from my vantage point, whether it’s their teammates or counselors or team pastors that we have.”
The collision between Hamlin and Higgins “looked like an ordinary play — and that’s the scary part,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said.
“This is violent sport,” Mayfield said, “but that’s about broken bones and different injuries like that, not life and death, so this is something I think we’re all going through for the first time.”
Linebacker Bobby Wagner, an 11th-year pro, said he had dealt with tough situations throughout his career, including a 2015 incident when Seattle Seahawks teammate Ricardo Lockette suffered a neck injury that could have been fatal.
“It’s important that people realize that we have pads, we have helmets … we work out, we look big, but we are humans at the end of the day,” he said, “and we are real people at the end of the day .”
Allowing players to express their feelings about Hamlin’s situation was paramount, Wagner said.
“The thing that we’re kind of taught to do in this sport because it’s such a quote-unquote ‘manly sport’ is to hide your feelings, hide your emotions, and any expression of these feelings or emotions makes you less of a man or emasculates you,” Wagner said. “I think that’s a myth, like talking about your feelings and talking about things that affect you mentally, physically are more manly than anything because it takes a lot of courage to talk about those things.
“So, you talk about those feelings, you express those feelings, you feel those feelings, and you understand there’s a job to do at the end of the day and you find your way to do it.”
McVay indicated that he had conversations with players who, in light of Hamlin’s situation, expressed that they might not be ready to play in Sunday’s season finale against the Seattle Seahawks.
“They know from my vantage point that whatever they’re feeling, I support them unconditionally and 100%,” he said.
All decisions would be respected, rookie cornerback Derion Kendrick said.
“We always support our brothers,” he said, “Whether they’re going to go out there for this last game or not, we’re going to support him. That’s not going to change our mindset about you. … You got to make your decision about how you feel.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.