My family and I watched the Monday Night Football game together, as we often do. I was also playing risk with my youngest son, trying to finish up the seemingly never-ending board game before I missed missed most of the NFL action. However, this distraction made what happened on the field with 5:58 to go in the first quarter all the more poignant.
While I was trying to win a few small battles with my son as we quested for far-flung territory, Damar Hamlin was in a battle for his life. After hitting Tee Higgins after a fairly routine catch, Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest and needed immediate medical attention on the field, eventually being driven off of the field in an ambulance.
As we rolled our little dice, we discussed what had just happened to the young man as a family. My wife is a registered nurse, so she had some thoughts about what it might mean that he collapsed as he did after surviving the tackle. We discussed what might happen next or whether he would be okay, as we watched the bills players all comfort one another. We had witnessed a traumatic event, but they had been a part of it.
We saw men sobbing on the field. We saw dozens of men huddled together trying to will a fellow team member to live. And we also saw announcers be unable to put into words what they were feeling. Multiple commentators became distressed as they stated, “The emotion that we’re experiencing tonight is really hard to describe.”
And while I would agree that talking extemporaneously about tragic events that have just happened is difficult, all I could think was that this is THE PERFECT MOMENT to give voice to your feelings.
The NFL players were Sad. Distraught. Worried. Devastated.
The fans were Afraid. Horrified. Alarmed. Upset.
These are words that would help us to process the scenes that we all just witnessed. Instead, we got silence and a lot of hand-wringing. Ultimately, the teams (not the NFL) decided that they could not and would not continue the game. This was obviously the right call, but they didn’t discuss WHY it was the right call.
Postponing (and ultimately canceling) the game was the right way to handle the situation because the men on the field needed to Feel their Feelings. They needed to process the tragedy before them, and they needed to be present with one another without the rest of a football game hanging over them.
We need to accept that feelings are a part of our lives. In big moments, like when a trusted friend has a cardiac event, and in small moments, like when you have anxiety about your work or a relationship. We have to notice when these feelings are big and when we might not have the words to describe them. And then, we must push past that and actually find the words we need to name them.
Just look at the images from the night of this game.
These are the feelings of deeply passionate individuals. It is positive masculinity on display for all to see. And we should celebrate them for crying, for comforting, and for feeling what they needed to feel. We should not ask them to bottle up these emotions the next time they play the game and “get tough” so that they can win. Rather, we should recognize that it is these deep emotions that are the source of their inner strength. By having these emotions so close to the surface, they are able to complete great acts of physical sport.
Feelings make us strong. Silence makes us weak.