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How Damar Hamlin’s Recovery Allowed Us to Breathe


After all, we all know that sometimes they don’t. The long-term effects of concussions have increasingly develop into a subject of public concern, alongside gun control, mass shootings and crime. But Americans juggle conflicted feelings in regards to the violent game. Some parents, and even former N.F.L. stars, are discouraging their young children from taking over tackle football. At the identical time, football, like no other sport, crosses politics, gender, race, age and sophistication in the USA. N.F.L. games accounted for a whopping 82 of the 100 most-watched television broadcasts last yr, in response to Nielsen, making it the last remaining type of water cooler entertainment in our atomized culture.

Not coincidentally pro football only took off as a national sport in the course of the late ’50s and ’60s when it embraced television, which marketed football’s brutality as a counterweight to baseball’s languor. The league cooked up documentaries and highlights shows, memorably narrated for years by John Facenda, the voice of God. “The sport is a time warp where the young dream of growing up and the old remember youth,” he intoned. As the author James Surowiecki put it, NFL Movies “tried to concurrently convey the gritty reality of the sport and mythicize it in a Homeric fashion.”

This was also the era of America’s metastasizing debacle in Vietnam. A 1967 documentary, “They Call It Pro Football,” exalted N.F.L. linebackers who, like American soldiers in Da Nang and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, were on “search-and-destroy” missions. Head coaches like Vince Lombardi were lionized as tactical generals leading self-sacrificing armies of clean-cut soldiers to victory. The nation was on the verge of coming apart and football needed its own counter culture representative, who arrived within the green and white uniform of the Recent York Jets within the upstart American Football League. While campuses were erupting with antiwar protests, the Jets’ playboy quarterback, Joe Namath, together with his long hair, fur coats and bedroom eyes, famously predicted the Jets would beat the N.F.L.’s ultra-establishmentarian Baltimore Colts and win Super Bowl III.

When the Jets won, football not only survived the upheaval. It got here out richer, more popular than ever and unified. Not less than on Sundays, Americans could dream about Hollywood endings despite their divisions.

We’re again a nation divided, and reading greater than ever into the meaning of the sport and what, wishfully or otherwise, it says about us. Buffalo fans this Sunday suggested Hamlin’s recovery was a metaphor for the resilience of a city battered by storms, decline and crime. As if on cue, the Bills returned the opening kickoff against the Patriots for a touchdown, the primary time the team had done that in 18 years. A nail-biter through the primary half, Buffalo pulled away within the second. “All of us won,” Hamlin tweeted from his hospital bed. As Nantz, the announcer, put it: “Love for Damar, it was definitely within the air. Not only here. All across this league, this nation.”

Then he asked the melancholy query that appeared to sum up the week. “The love, the support, the prayers,” he said, “why can’t we live like that day-after-day?”

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