As the world watched with baited breath as Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field during a Monday Night Football Game against the Cincinnati Bengals, one former athlete was reminded of his own experience suffering a life-altering injury.
Prior to the shocking medical emergency Hamlin suffered on national television, perhaps no athlete had suffered a more public and shocking career-ending injury than Eric LeGrand.
LeGrand, a former Rutgers football player who was paralyzed from the neck down after severing his spinal cord in a 2010 game against Army, watched replays of Hamlin collapse and was brought back to his own injury more than 13 years ago.
“I could remember myself laying there fully conscious on that turf,” LeGrand told KTLA’s Krystle Rich.
On Monday, LeGrand was watching his beloved Rutgers basketball team pull an upset victory over the No. 1 ranked Purdue Boilermakers. As he celebrated the shocking win, word began to trickle in about what had just happened during Monday Night Football.
“I saw the hit and my emotions immediately went from so high to so low,” LeGrand said.
The former college football player said Hamlin’s medical crisis was an important reminder for fans of America’s most popular sport that the athletes they watch and enjoy on television are putting their lives on the line every time they suit up.
“We know the risks every time we strap on our helmets,” LeGrand said. “It’s not something that crosses our mind, though, until something like my situation or Damar’s situation happens.”
The activist and entrepreneur added that many of Hamlin’s family members and teammates also need to be considered, because you can never be fully prepared to see a loved one or friend go down.
“Feel for the players, aunt, uncle and family members, because they really go through it in those moments because they are the ones who are fully conscious and aware of what’s going on,” LeGrand said.
As the National Football League considers how to move forward following Monday’s suspension of competition, LeGrand says players will never be able to fully get over what they witnessed.
“It will always be in the back of their minds,” LeGrand said. “I know for my teammates, after my injury, it was in the back of their mind for the first few weeks and a lot of them were afraid to make tackles and things of that nature.”
He added that the players are professionals and will eventually get back on the field, even if it takes a while for them to feel comfortable again.
Because football is an inherently violent sport, injuries are bound to happen and fans of the game will need to understand the risks that these athletes face each and every game.
“You just hope for the best when something like this happens,” LeGrand said.