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Within 24 hours, the Damar Hamlin injury is already igniting an unnecessary “Black versus White” debate.

Last night, many of us were glued to our televisions watching the primetime matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals. In a tragic turn of events, Buffalo Bills lineman Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest during the first quarter and collapsed after tackling Bengals’ Tee Higgins.

Medics rushed to the field and administered CPR for several minutes. Players were seen in tears as the 24 year old received medical attention, and nearly the entire Bills team joined together in prayer as the ambulance left the field once his heartbeat was restored. Hamlin was taken to UC Medical Center where he is reportedly sedated and in critical condition. 

Immediately, social media was ablaze with the news. Most people were sending up prayers, some were spewing out opinions and others were airing their frustrations around the treatment of Black players. 

Sports commentator Skip Bayless took to the Twitter streets to express more concern for the preservation of the football season than Hamlin’s life. And for that, he got dragged.

Music artist Quest Love, Jacksonville Jaguar punter Logan Cooke and thousands of others responded to the insensitive tweet, calling it disgusting and inconsiderate. And former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner said, “This goes to show how some dehumanize professional athletes, especially Black athletes. These athletes are people with families. They are people, not bodies meant for entertainment.” Turner reminded Bayless of the history and sensitivity around the treatment of Black people in professional sports.

Damar Hamlin injury ignites racial debate

Also intertwined in the prayers and opinions were people calling “flag on the play”, outraged that it took the league almost 70 minutes to suspend the game after Hamlin collapsed. Those frustrations are linked to reverberating echoes that the NFL does not care about its players–specifically, Black players. Some people believe that had it been Tampa Bay Buccaneers Quarterback Tom Brady in distress, the game would’ve been postponed immediately.

True, the league does have a history and present examples of being racially biased. We all remember the backlash from blackballing former 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick because he took a knee in calling for racial justice. And just recently, accusations of racist hiring practices and medical protocals have surfaced.

But, playing devil’s advocate, the average person probably isn’t aware of the NFL’s protocol around addressing real-time, severe injuries. With concussions occurring all the time (close to 200 in 2021), the standard practice involves the player getting examined or carted off the field, giving the thumbs up to let everyone know they’re OK, and the game goes on. So, maybe there was a little uncertainty behind the scenes that took a little longer than we’d like to resolve.

As a hardcore advocate for racial justice, I get it–we have to call out what’s not right in the moment it happens. But in the unfortunate case of Damar Hamlin, I don’t think this is one of those times. 

Tom Brady, Drew Brees and a host of other White athletes have shown their support and sent prayers. Players, Black and White, rallied around Hamlin, wept, prayed and refused to continue one of the most important games of some of their careers because one of their brothers was hurt. And in light of his injury, millions of dollars have been poured into his foundation in Pittsburgh to support children hit hardest by the pandemic.

And still, if this is one of those times, let’s not let the ugliness of the world overshadow what’s most important–the full recovery of Damar Hamlin, the support of his loved ones and football family and a moment of humanity.

Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work--"If not me then who?" As a strategist and injustice interrupter, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for radical...

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