“Did we win?”
Damar Hamlin, the Buffalo Bills safety who suffered a near-fatal heart attack during a Monday Night Football NFL game this week, after two days in intensive care and still breathing with the help of a ventilator, in a scribbled a note shortly after regaining consciousness.
Well, it’s a great story. In the spirit of the old newspaperman at the end of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence” [“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”], I’m going to assume it’s true, though I have grave doubts. For one thing, it’s hearsay; for another, the account comes through the NFL publicity staff, and the NFL’s any-staff has no ethics credibility at all. But the quote is possibly true, and it certainly conveys an ethical lesson: Put your “team,” whatever it may be, above your own concerns; care about whether your misfortune in pursuit of a shared goal interfered with that goal rather than focusing only on your own welfare. There really have been documented instances where an athlete did give the equivalent quote following a serious injury.
For example, Bobby Valentine, better known today as a super-intense, win-at-all-costs manager, was once a rising star with the Los Angeles Angels. But he suffered a horrible compound fractured leg trying to make a great play on an outfield fly, and never recovered sufficiently to play at his previous level. As they were carrying Valentine off the field in a stretcher, his bone sticking out through the skin, he gasped to his team mates, “Win the game…win the pennant!” and then passed out. They used to mock Bobby for exactly that “rah-rah” attitude, so the story rings true, and maybe the Hamlin quote is as well.
The reported response of the doctor who read the note—“Yes, Damar, you won.You’ve won the game of life!”—-however…..well, I’ll just say that part of the story is even harder to believe than “Did we win”?