Over the weekend, Damar Hamlin was the guest of honor at the Buffalo Bills playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Just 20 days after dramatically going into cardiac arrest, his appearance – and his trademark display of a heart with his hands – was, to say the least, inspiring. As moms, his presence helped us breathe a sigh of relief for Damar’s mother Nina. Because as moms, many of us have been sending love and prayers to Nina along with Damar.
Damar Hamlin, just 24, isn’t just one young man playing his heart out, only to have his heart almost, quite literally, give out on him. He represents all our kids, our sons, our families. Some of us are watching our kids as toddlers trying out new sports, grade schoolers dedicating themselves to travel teams, and high schoolers trying to get recruited to play in college. We may know something about how hard it is to get even close to where he is but likely have no real idea.
Damar Hamlin wasn’t just any boy aiming for the NFL. Nina was only 16 years old when she had Damar, and his father, Mario, only 17—kids themselves. To make ends meet, Mario turned to selling drugs and spent time in prison. Nina raised Damar on her own during those years. By all accounts, the family, as we all hope to do as families, grew together, became stronger, and are united today. Not only did Mario reassure the Bills of Damar’s progress even when he was fighting for his life after his collapse, but Nina spoke with Tee Higgins, the Bengals player who collided with Damar prior to his cardiac arrest, to alleviate the pressure that young man was feeling. Even as Damar’s financial stability takes a hit (he has only played in the NFL for a handful of years, and isn’t worth millions like NFL veterans), his family has formalized his charity efforts for others. His foundation has now raised almost $9 million to support children’s causes.
In a now infamous conversation with ESPN in 2015, NBA legend Charles Barkley said, “White kids grow up thinking they can be doctors, lawyers and engineers. Black kids don’t think that. My goal is to get young black kids, I never talk to them about sports. Never. I say hey, you can be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, teacher, fireman, policeman, things like that. I never talk to them about playing sports. It’s unrealistic.”
For Damar Hamlin, he made what was unrealistic a reality, and is now inspiring other kids (through his charity and his actions as a player and now as a cardiac arrest survivor) to be their best, whether that’s on the football field or in school. He got to the ultimate level–what all flag football and youth tackle football players aspire to be–with the support of his family. Now we hope this role model and his family feel the support from fans, particularly from Moms. Because we can all see a little bit of Damar, Nina, Mario and his 7-year-old brother Damir, in ourselves. And we hope that Damar is right when he Tweeted last night “We’ll be back…don’t even trip.”