Pray for Damar: Public prayer blitz follows Hamlin collapse

Jan 6, 2023, 4:40 PM | Updated: Jan 7, 2023, 5:22 pm

Buffalo Bills fans and community members gather for a candlelight vigil for Bills safety Damar Haml...

Buffalo Bills fans and community members gather for a candlelight vigil for Bills safety Damar Hamlin on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in Orchard Park, N.Y. Hamlin collapsed Monday while going into cardiac arrest after making what appeared to be a routine tackle during the team's NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Hamlin was sedated and in critical condition Tuesday. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

(AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

The intersection of prayer and sports has been especially prominent in the aftermath of Damar Hamlin’s frightening collapse during an NFL game.

All 32 NFL teams have included “Pray for Damar” on their Twitter avatars. ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky prayed for the Buffalo Bills’ safety on live TV. Countless fans and other concerned observers said on social media they were praying, and dozens linked arms outside his Cincinnati hospital.

“In commemorating life or death in sport, people say pray, pray, pray a lot,” said Julie Byrne, chair of the Religion Department at Hofstra University. “I don’t think it reaches the pitch that you have here because of the incredibly dramatic circumstances. But it’s a pretty go-to response.”

It was amplified in Hamlin’s case partly because people now can offer instant expressions of prayer or any other reaction on social media. Plus, it was a high-profile “Monday Night Football” game between Hamlin’s Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals with millions watching or getting alerts about the alarming incident on their phones.

Hamlin’s heart stopped after making what appeared to be a routine tackle in the first quarter. The second-year pro went into cardiac arrest and was resuscitated on the field.

On Friday, the 24-year-old Hamlin was breathing on his own and able to talk after having his breathing tube removed, his agent said. Doctors described Hamlin’s neurological function as “excellent” Saturday.

Players from both teams knelt on the field in prayer, not an uncommon scene in a sport that has seen plenty of scary injuries. Each week after every game, many players from both teams join together in a prayer circle, holding hands and kneeling; 63% of adults in the United States identify as Christians with 45% saying they pray daily, according to the Pew Research Center.

The expression of faith has been carried out very publicly in Hamlin’s case.

“It is new in terms of the scale and the scope,” said Paul Putz, assistant director of the Faith & Sports Institute at Baylor University. “It’s not common to see someone on a national television network who opens in prayer or just issues a prayer during the broadcast. That certainly is something that’s new, but it also does reflect this broader Christian subculture in the NFL.”

Orlovsky, a former NFL quarterback, prayed for Hamlin during Tuesday’s “NFL Live” broadcast as his two co-hosts bowed their heads and said “Amen” when he was done.

“If we didn’t believe that prayer (works), we wouldn’t ask this of you, God,” Orlovsky said in the prayer. “I believe in prayer. We believe in prayer. We lift up Damar Hamlin’s name in Your name.”

Afterward, Orlovsky told the AP in a text: “It was on my heart. The more we pray, the more Damar may come out of it.”

Bills coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane both thanked God in separate news conferences.

“I’m a Christian man to begin with and I’m not afraid to say that, and I know when you are trying to do good things or great things, sometimes you come across opposition,” McDermott said when asked about the team’s ability to respond to adversity.

NFL executive Troy Vincent, a five-time Pro Bowl cornerback during his 15-year career, praised God in an emotional news conference.

“My greatest fear flashed in front of me in the moment but for the goodness and grace of God, Damar is still here,” Vincent told the AP in a text.

The Jaguars and Titans came together at midfield before their showdown for the AFC South title on Saturday night and knelt down in prayer.

On Sunday, the NFL Players Association will share a prayer by Reverend Dr. William J. Barber for Hamlin and the entire NFL community.

“Reverend Barber has been a voice for equality, justice, faith and hope for millions of Americans,” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said. “When we connected in the aftermath of the traumatic injury suffered by Damar Hamlin, we were both moved by the unity on display not only by Bills and Bengals players, but by NFL players across our league and everyone in our community. His prayer is in the spirit of that unity and how our membership — also working Americans — brought our nation and our world together in the most challenging moments.”

Jeffrey Scholes, associate professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, said he hasn’t seen such a public outpouring of prayer in any sport.

“Dan Orlovsky breaking out in prayer was just kind of stunning,” said Scholes, who has written several books on religion and sports. “I’ve never seen anything like that. It looked more like the 700 Club than it did ESPN for a bit there.”

He said football has always been more closely tied to faith than other major sports. Plus, it was a big game among two of the top AFC teams and it was far from a standard injury.

“I think that the amount of prayer around this event makes a little more sense in that this event was so rare, disturbing, traumatic for those watching, for the players, for the coaches,” Scholes said. “I think a call for divine intervention via prayer is more expected.”

Chuck Hughes is the only NFL player to die on the field. The 28-year-old Detroit Lions wide receiver suffered a fatal heart attack late in a game against the Chicago Bears on Oct. 24, 1971. Putz said later newspaper accounts wrote of the players praying in their locker rooms.

“We didn’t have the public processing of (Hughes) in real time,” the Baylor professor said. “It wasn’t something millions of people were engaged with at the same time.

In 1971, Chuck Hughes — people were responding with prayer,” he added. “In 2023 when this happens with Hamlin, people responded with prayer again. But now, it’s amplified and scaled up because of the way social media works.”

Putz himself focused on praying and not trying to analyze the overtly prayerful response from a historian’s perspective. Time will tell if it’s a new normal in the social media world.

“I think over time then we’ll come to realize what this signified, what it highlighted about the ongoing connection between religion and sports, which have been going on for a long time,” Putz said.


AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi contributed to this report.


AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Ex-Packer Guion gets 1 year for domestic violence assault

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion was sentenced to one year in jail after pleading no contest in a domestic violence assault at his home last fall. Brown County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Walsh also ordered Guion on Tuesday to serve three years’ probation and complete a domestic […]

1 year ago

Joe Jarzynka...

Associated Press

Durant eager for Suns debut vs. Hornets after knee injury

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Durant has been through quite a bit during his 15-year NBA career — but joining a new team midway through the season is a new one for the 13-time All-Star. The 34-year-old Durant doesn’t seem all that worried. Durant makes his highly anticipated Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday night against […]

1 year ago

FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an N...

Associated Press

Judge: NFL coach can press discrimination claims in court

NEW YORK (AP) — NFL Coach Brian Flores can pursue some of his discrimination claims against the league and its teams in court rather than through arbitration, a judge ruled Wednesday. The written decision by Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan was issued months after lawyers for the league tried to get the lawsuit moved to […]

1 year ago

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Alex Stalock cools off in the first period during an NHL hockey game ...

Associated Press

Kane trade reinforces hard reality of Blackhawks rebuild

CHICAGO (AP) — After days of speculation, the harsh reality of the Chicago Blackhawks’ situation was reinforced by one move in a flurry of transactions ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Showtime is over, at least in Chicago, and a seemingly bright future is, well, way off in the distance. The reverberations of Chicago’s decision […]

1 year ago

FILE -  Yves Jean-Bart, president of the Haitian Football Federation, wearing a protective face mas...

Associated Press

Disgraced ex-Haitian soccer president announces he’s back

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s former soccer federation president whose lifetime ban from sport over sexual abuse allegations was overturned last month announced Wednesday that he is reclaiming his position. Yves Jean-Bart’s defiant announcement could lead to a standoff with FIFA, which already has appointed an emergency management committee to lead the Haitian Football Association […]

1 year ago

FILE - Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after an NFL football game against the ...

Associated Press

Rodgers says decision on future will come ‘soon enough’

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers says he will make a decision on his future “soon enough” as the four-time MVP quarterback ponders whether to play next season and if his future remains with the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers, 39, discussed his future while speaking on an episode of the “Aubrey Marcus Podcast” that […]

1 year ago

Pray for Damar: Public prayer blitz follows Hamlin collapse