As the ambulance carrying injured Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin slowly rolled off the field in Cincinnati on Monday night, a group of players and team employees knelt in a spacious but intimate circle on the field. They bowed their heads, some placing their hands on each other’s shoulders and others with tears rolling down their faces, in a moment of spontaneous prayer led by the team’s chaplain, Len Vanden Boas. The packed Paycor Stadium erupted in applause as the players knelt and rose again.
It was the first of many prayers in an extraordinary display of public piety in the hours and days following Mr. Hamlin’s fall, which at the start of the game looked like a routine collision. Mr. Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field and remained in critical condition as of Wednesday night at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. the team said He was showing signs of improvement.
The calls from the 24-year-old went beyond the pro forma “thoughts and prayers” often offered by public figures in the aftermath of a tragedy. The exit suggests that Christianity has long been intertwined with American football culture, tied to the sport through its popularity in the Bible Belt. Strengthening the bond is the closeness of the players whose exposure to physical danger in high-impact sports has gained more publicity in recent years.
Video of Bengals fans circulates online reciting the lord’s prayer in the stand. On Tuesday on ESPN, analyst Dan Orlovsky, former NFL quarterback, told his colleagues on the live broadcast that “it’s just on my heart that I want to pray.” He did so by bowing his head and closing his eyes.
“Lord, we come to you in moments we do not understand,” he said. “I believe in prayer, we believe in prayer, and we name the asphalt Hamlin after you.” His co-anchor murmured, “Amen.”
“Please pray for our brother,” Bills quarterback Josh Allen wrote on Twitter, where the league’s players and coaches shared similar messages. All 32 NFL teams changed their Twitter profile pictures to a message reading “Pray for Dummer” in the style of Mr. Hamlin’s blue jersey. Fans held vigils outside the hospital in Cincinnati and at Highmark Stadium in Buffalo, where Jill Kelly, wife of former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, led the crowd in prayer.
“I think we all have to recognize the power of prayer from the coaches, players, staff and fans in that stadium and from people around the world,” Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice president of football operations, told reporters Wednesday afternoon. ,There is power in prayer.”
To outsiders, the intensity of these expressions of faith may seem astonishing, an unusual display of public devotion in an increasingly secular culture. For observers of the close relationship between Christianity and American football, sermons for prayer were natural.
“This is an example of the public seeing a Christian subculture that has been embedded in the NFL for four decades,” said Paul Putz, assistant director of the Faith and Sports Institute at Baylor University. “Since the 1970s, it was almost like its own church.”
More on the Fall of Asphalt Hamlin
- of the NFL violent spectacle, The appetite for football has never been higher, even as spectators witness the impact the game has on the lives of players. Asphalt Hamlin’s collapse should force a rethink, writes our columnist.
- In Buffalo: The Bills have offered the city a welcome distraction from a horrendous year. Now that shell of easy escapism has been shattered.
- schedule scenario, How will the NFL handle the Bills-Bengals game that was suspended after injury? The league has several options.
- ESPN’s coverage: Within minutes of Mr. Hamlin’s downfall, the sports network changed from the broadcaster of a football game to the center of a major news event.
Most Christian ministries that operate within the NFL are bound by evangelical tradition, but the league’s religious culture is not directly conservative.
Because of the NFL’s racial diversity, evangelism is “less concerned with culture-war politics and more about applying the Bible, understood through an evangelical lens, to the practical needs of players – athletic performance, marriage. And family, and dealing with injuries and setbacks,” Mr. Putz said.
American sports culture is shot through with links to Christian organizations and expressions of Christian faith, from pointing upward to thank God after a good game to giving credit for victory in postgame interviews.
But even in that context, soccer looks different. A case involving a high-school football coach whose practice of praying on the field after games reached the Supreme Court last year. (“Doing it on the battlefield makes sense,” Koch told The New York Times about his commitment to the ritual, even at the cost of his job.)
Former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow – now one of many ex-NFL players who are popular speakers at Christian conferences and churches – was known for dropping to one knee and bowing his head to the field, a move known as “Tebowing”. is known in
“The NFL has been very open and receptive to the faith over the years,” said Jason Romano, director of media at Sports Spectrum.
Mr. Romano said, “God is setting something like this to happen,” stressing that he did not believe that God designed Mr. Hamlin’s injury, but rather an outpouring of Christian prayer in response. Reflects the culture developing within the league over the decades.
After every game, he explained, players on both teams kneel at the 50-yard line for a prayer, a tradition that began in 1990 after an acrimonious Monday Night Football matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants.
NFL teams have chaplains, often affiliated with evangelical Christian organizations; And players can participate in team Bible studies, pregame chapel services and a popular annual retreat hosted by Pro Athlete Outreach, an evangelical ministry.
For many players, the support of their team chaplain is like “an oasis to us, like water in the desert,” recalled Vincent Ray of his time as former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker. He is now the team’s chaplain.
He was at the game on Monday and walked down the stands to be with the team, while his wife gathered with the wives and girlfriends of several players.
Mr. Ray’s typical work as a pastor is less dramatic. He conducts a weekly Bible study for players, a chapel service before games, mentors individual players and offers an evening gathering for couples, where he and his wife lead a Christian devotional focused on marriage”. Let’s talk about draw close”.
That institutional culture means that prayer is a natural response for many people to a traumatic event like Mr. Hamlin’s injury.
“Public prayer” is a muscle twitch for people, said Marcia Mount Shoup, a pastor in North Carolina whose husband was an NFL coach for 12 seasons.
Reverend Mount Shoup, author of “Touchdown for Jesus and Other Signs of the Apocalypse: Lifting the Veil on Big-Time Sports,” said, “It is not seen as a sign of weakness because it has been tied to masculinity for decades. ”
“It’s done all the time by big, strong men who are going to fuck everybody up in a few minutes,” she said.
Mr. Hamlin graduated from a Catholic high school in Pittsburgh and has occasionally spoken about his faith. “I feel God talking to me,” he told a reporter in 2021, referring to his charitable work. “I really feel like that’s my purpose. That’s why they put me here.”
Brian Toome, a former high-school football player and Bengals fan, watched the game at home Monday night. What struck him, he said, were television commentators struggling for words as they covered late-night sports to the outpouring of fear and sadness surrounding an emergency medical incident .
“America got to see people sympathize,” said With Mr. Toome, pastor of Crossroads Church, Cincinnati and other places. “These moments of crisis are bringing out something in us that is really positive.”
Mr. Tome hosted a community prayer service for Mr. Hamlin at his church on Tuesday, about a mile from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where Mr. Hamlin was unconscious and in critical condition.
“We cannot participate in the medical process,” he told the assembled crowd of about 100, with hundreds more streaming the service online. “But we can participate in prayer.”
For former players, the injury was a reminder of the sport’s inherent risks—for some of them, a factor that drew them to believe in a higher power.
Bill Curry, a longtime college football coach who played for 10 seasons in the NFL in the 1960s and ’70s, said the game of football is unique in that players rely on each other for both success and physical safety .
“Football is the only sport where you need every player for every play,” he said.
Mr. Curry was carried off the field in an ambulance in 1973, when a knee injury ended his career with the Houston Oilers. He said prayer was a constant resource for many in the league.
“We knew the risk we were taking, and we knew that something could happen at any moment,” Mr Curry said. “We played macho, but in our hearts it was constantly, ‘God, I need you, please be by my side.'”
Ken Belson contributed to this story.
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