We saw one of the scariest sights on an NFL field during the Week 17 matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals. Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin made what looked like a normal tackle on Cincinnati wide receiver Tee Higgins, and both players fell to the ground. Hamlin hopped onto his feet, but about three seconds later, collapsed onto the turf. Medical personnel rushed onto the field and Hamlin was given CPR to resuscitate his heart.
The game was rightfully postponed and much of the discussion in the sports media world centered around Hamlin’s condition, as well as what the league should do about the game and its potential postseason ramifications. On the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show, the show’s cohost Garrett Bush looked beyond these next few days and weeks and dove into the NFL’s pension plan. Bush shared how the pension plan also decreased certain payments during the most recent collective bargaining agreement. He ended his thoughts by saying Roger Goodell and NFL executives run the league “like a criminal organization.”
He noted that Hamlin has only played two seasons in the NFL; players are only eligible for the pension after completing three seasons. If Hamlin can no longer play football, he’ll never receive another check from the NFL.
Hamlin signed a rookie deal in 2021 worth $3,640,476 over four seasons. It’s an average annual salary of $910,119 — but that’s only if Hamlin plays. NFL salaries aren’t guaranteed and rookie deals are notoriously inflexible. Rookies receive a signing bonus and base salary and can earn additional money through bonuses for making the roster, reporting to camp, attending workouts, and reaching certain incentives. But none of those additional bonuses are a given.
In Hamlin’s case, he made a $160,476 signing bonus and was set to earn a salary worth $825,000. It would be a terrible look for the Bills to dock Hamlin’s pay for missing the final regular season game and any postseason affairs, but what happens next year?
Per updates from his family and medical team, Hamlin has made incredible progress. He seems to have good neurological functions and even asked if the Bills won the Monday Night Football game. However, there’s likely a long road to get back to an NFL field, and the hospital bills will be significant. There’s also the mental side of things — if this could happen on what appeared to be a fairly routine play, that could linger in Hamlin’s mind (and in the minds of other players across the league).
One inspiring thing to come from what happened is the tremendous show of humanity from fans across the world. Hamlin runs a nonprofit toy drive for his Chasing M’s foundation and had a fundraiser going to raise $2,500. As of this writing, the drive had raised more than $8 million.
As Bush pleaded, it’s time for the NFL to “do the right thing.” The NFL and Bills owners Terry and Kim Pagula can certainly offer support for Hamlin — and for all players, who lay their bodies and minds out on the field every time they play.
Now, let’s see if the league actually steps up and helps one of the players who’s helped turn the NFL into a multi-billion dollar empire.