Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin took another major step in his return to football by joining his teammates on their first day wearing full pads at training camp.
“It’s another milestone,” Hamlin told reporters at a news conference Monday. “We’ve been getting over hurdles as far as medical (hurdles) … it’s another milestone as far as the journey.”
Hamlin added that his return to practice “feels amazing” and has been “a rollercoaster of every emotion.”
Bills safety Damar Hamlin running on to the practice field in full pads for the first time since January. pic.twitter.com/W37HY3pRGb
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) July 31, 2023
The 25-year-old joined the Bills for the start of training camp last week, one month after he fully participated in on-field drills during organized team activities in early June. Doctors cleared Hamlin to resume football activities in April after collapsing and going into cardiac arrest during the Jan. 2 “Monday Night Football” matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals last season.
Bills medical personnel rushed to Hamlin’s aid and resuscitated him on the field. Hamlin initially spent a week at a Cincinnati hospital before being transferred to Buffalo to continue his recovery. The Bills training staff continues to monitor him closely at training camp.
When asked if he’s hesitant to resume playing football, Hamlin admitted that returning to the game is emotional but he won’t let that stop him.
“You can’t hit that field with no hesitation. You put yourself in more danger by doing that,” Hamlin said. “I made the choice to play. I’m processing a thousand emotions. I’m not afraid to say that it crosses my mind being a little scary here and there. My strength is rooted in my faith and my faith is stronger than any fear. … As long as your faith is stronger than your fear, you can get through anything. That’s what I’m living by right now.”
While hospitalized, support poured in for Hamlin from across the globe. Fans donated over $9 million to his Chasing M’s Foundation, a charity Hamlin founded while in college at Pitt to raise money for a local toy drive. His foundation expanded its efforts this offseason to provide hands-on CPR training and donate AED machines.
Hamlin addressed the level of public interest in his recovery following his collapse on TV and said he wants to use it for a higher purpose.
“I honestly would love to do this whole process under a rock, get myself together and then pop back out when I feel at my best,” he said. “But I think there’s strength in going through a process in front of everybody’s eyes. It shows vulnerability, it shows strength, it shows perseverance. That’s what I want to stand for.”
The topic of cardiac arrest in athletes returned to the national conversation last week after Bronny James, the son of Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James, collapsed at a basketball practice with USC. The James family showed support for Hamlin during his recovery, and the safety said Bronny’s collapse reminded him of everything he’s been through since January.”
“A super big reminder. It put everything back in perspective for me. Prayers out to (Bronny) and prayers out to his family,” Hamlin said. “I’ll be there for him in regards to his recovery.”
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Scenes from Hamlin’s first day in pads
As most of his teammates were already on the field and warming up for practice, Hamlin trotted through the tunnel to the practice area to a huge ovation — one of the biggest aside from franchise quarterback Josh Allen. While most of his teammates had yet to strap their helmets on, Hamlin kept his on the whole time, from his initial run out straight through to practice beginning.
Upon arrival, he immediately went to his place with the defensive backs, slapped some hands from teammates — including his childhood friend and Bills teammate Dane Jackson. Hamlin took a deep breath, likely taking in the moment, and began his own warmup routine. Hamlin’s family, including his mother, father and little brother were all in attendance for the momentous meaning behind putting his pads on again for the first time.
The Bills have always made it clear that they would go at the safety’s pace, and even on his first day back in pads since suffering cardiac arrest in January, Hamlin participated in the session, in full, without restriction. —Buscaglia
(Photo: Gregory Fisher / USA Today)