A Quirky Take on a Serious Subject

Welcome to 2023! It’s good to be back for another year at Oilpressure.com. We had a good Christmas, but I think I learned one thing about myself. Although I will reach the magical age of 65 later this fall – twelve straight days off around the house has shown me that I may not be ready to retire from my day job anytime soon. It got old. I think Susan was also ready for me to go back to work on Tuesday.

I had a fairly timely topic to write about for this first post of the new year, but that changed after watching the dramatic events unfold on Monday Night Football a couple of nights ago. Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last day or so, you know that Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest after he made a tackle in the game at the Cincinnati Bengals.

It was a frightening scene to watch. Susan and I were watching live, and I saw him collapse just after he made the tackle. I’ve seen players collapse on the field before, so I did not think that much about it. But after seeing the horrified looks on the players faces (Bills quarterback Josh Allen, in particular); I knew this was much more serious than a concussion.

As the minutes continued with no reports as the paramedics continued to perform CPR on Hamlin, it was becoming apparent that this was a grave situation. I thought the crew at the stadium, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Lisa Salters, did an incredible job of holding their composure and keeping the conversation flowing with very little information to work from. In short, the three of them were professionals, who rose to the occasion under the most difficult of circumstances. As things stand as I write this, Hamlin is still in critical condition at University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

Why am I rehashing a football story on a racing-related site? Because of the comments I heard on sports talk radio on Tuesday – both local and national outlets.

Over and over, I kept hearing how this is unprecedented in the world of sports. “Never in sports have we witnessed a participant possibly lose their life as a result of the competition” is how the general narrative went.

Being a motorsports fan, I take issue with the stance that what we witnessed on Monday night is totally unprecedented in the world of sports. Is racing not a sport? I’m sure the families of Justin Wilson, Dan Wheldon, Paul Dana, Tony Renna, Greg Moore, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Jeff Krosnoff, Scott Brayton, Jovy Marcelo, Dale Earnhardt, Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, Neil Bonnett, Rodney Orr, Jules Bianchi, Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger might take issue with such a stance also. Each of those drivers in IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula One all lost their lives in their respective sports over the past thirty years. Some were in practice, but most were in actual Race Day competition. I did this from memory, so if I omitted someone – I apologize.

I understand that NFL football is the most popular sport in the US, and the attention this situation received is warranted. Seeing it live, I was riveted to the screen and like everyone else – I was desperate for more information. But to say what we saw on Monday night is unprecedented, is not only wrong – it’s insulting to motorsports fans and the families of those drivers.

Motorsports fans were not the only ones alienated with this take. NHL fans most likely remember Jiří Fischer, who played for the Detroit Red Wings. In a 2005 game against the Nashville Predators, Fischer went into cardiac arrest on the Red Wings bench for six minutes. Like Hamlin, Fischer was resuscitated by CPR and an AED (automated external defibrillator). He was released from the hospital two days later. The event ended his playing career, but he is still alive today and works in the Red Wings front-office. Our prayer is that Hamlin will have a similar outcome.

College basketball’s Hank Gathers, of Loyola Marymount, collapsed and died in a West Coast Conference tournament semi-final game in 1990. The game was not televised, but ESPN showed what video was available of a convulsing Gathers on the court as he stopped breathing.

To be real picky, this is not even unprecedented in the NFL. Most today are too young to remember the fate of Chuck Hughes, who collapsed and died on the field during a game between the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions in 1971. Hughes was a wide-receiver for the Lions, who had been a decoy during a fourth-quarter play. On his way back to the huddle, Hughes suddenly collapsed. He was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. As it turned out, Hughes suffered from an undetected heart condition. He was 28.

I was 13 at the time. I did not see the game, nor did I ever see a replay of the incident. It wasn’t until the next evening that I even read about it in the afternoon newspaper. But once I learned about the incident, I was reminded of several drivers that had lost their lives just since I had become a race fan in the mid-60s.

I wouldn’t say that motorsports fans have become desensitized to the possibility of death. You never get used to that. However, we do always recognize that fatalities are always a real possibility in our sport. Football is a very violent sport, yet football fans are not used to seeing players actually fight for their lives. Concussions, broken bones and torn tendons and ligaments are a way of life in football, but cardiac arrest and death are not usually part of the football universe.

In the grand scheme of things, this is not important. I got irritated on Tuesday, hearing the phrase “unprecedented in sports” tossed around, so I chose to open the year bellyaching and whining about it and how racing has been overlooked by the general public…again. But that’s not what is at stake here. A person’s life is. My beef is not with ESPN. I thought they did a good job under difficult circumstances on Monday night. It is with the talking heads filling the Tuesday airwaves with their hot air.

Now that I’ve gotten that off of my chest, let’s not lose sight of what happened on Monday night. A young man suited up to play in what was probably the biggest game of the season for the Buffalo Bills. He likely never thought about the possibility that Monday night could be his last night on earth. Thankfully, there were excellent first responders on the scene who did their job and his heartbeat was restored, while millions watched in horror.

We’ll talk about IndyCar racing on Friday. Let’s all keep Damar Hamlin and his family in our prayers, as we pray for a full recovery.

George Phillips

8 Responses to “A Quirky Take on a Serious Subject”

  1. I saw that Lions-Bears game live and saw Hughes collapse. It was frightening.

  2. I remember the 1982 qualifications and Gordon Smiley’s horrific crash. After a 2 to 3 hour delay…..the event went forward. I have to wonder what protocol the NFL will have for the future. What if it’s the Super Bowl? 🙁

  3. Leslie Bissell Says:

    Ernest Hemingway’s opinion was that there were only three sports: mountaineering, bull fighting and auto racing, because participants risked death. All the rest were merely games.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    More irritating to me was an outlet that published a discussion where auto racing’s history of continuing competition in the face of sad and scary incidents actually WAS brought up.

    But what they brought up was a 1998 Rick Reilly column from Sports Illustrated that lambasted CART for continuing the 1998 US 500 after the awful incident in the stands (Reilly also criticized, quite unfairly I thought, Adrian Fernandez for what he portrayed as a callous response to the families of the fans who lost their lives). It isn’t an unfair or irrelevant thing to bring up IF you also bring up that racing organizations responded to the incident (taller catch fences, wheel tethers, calling off the 1999 IRL race at Charlotte, among other things).

    They didn’t.

  5. I couldn’t help but think of racing accidents when witnessing this game Monday night. It felt very familiar. It became obvious that people in the stick and ball sports world, were having a tough time with their myopic perspective. It’s almost like collectively, sports commentators and writers have forgotten that professional football is actually dangerous. I got in a debate with my significant other about whether or not the game should continue. I thought it should continue as an honor to Hamlin. The agreement in the house, let’s just say was not unanimous, however.

    • And not finishing the game causes the NFL a real pickle. They will not finish the game. There is no time. But the ranking for the playoffs are now messed up royally.

      I can see it now. The nationally broadcast coin flip with the two starting quarterbacks to determine the winner for the purposes of the post season. Leaving one team royally cheated. What else are they going to do?

  6. As much as I hate ESPN, I agree that they did handle the situation extraordinarily well. The booth and the studio were both absolute pros on Monday night. I never considered the motorsports angle where life and death situations are a much more common occurrence and I’m sure they didn’t either. I doubt that Suzy Kolber or Booger McFarland ever think about an auto race of any kind, so in their world I guess it kind of was unprecedented. Makes me appreciate the IndyCar world even more. We should not take their safety for granted.

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