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Damar Hamlin shows signs of improvement; NFL mulls scheduling options

A person leaves flowers for the display set up for Damar Hamlin outside the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. (Aaron Doster/AP)
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Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin demonstrated signs of improvement following the injury that led to him suffering cardiac arrest on the field during a game, the team announced Wednesday, although he remained listed in critical condition in the intensive care unit of a Cincinnati hospital.

The Bills said in a statement that the progress was “noted” Tuesday and overnight, adding, “He is expected to remain under intensive care as his health care team continues to monitor and treat him.”

Hamlin is being treated at University of Cincinnati Medical Center after he collapsed on the field following a hit during Monday night’s game against the Bengals.

“Right now, things are moving in a positive direction,” Jordon Rooney, a marketing representative for Hamlin, said during a televised interview Wednesday with NFL Network. “The doctors, what they were looking to see, I think they saw that. I can’t speak specifically on it. But things are moving in the right direction.”

NFL officials said they would consider all scheduling options as they began to decide whether to complete Monday’s game, which stopped during the first quarter and was later postponed. The league previously said the game would not resume this week. Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, said his conversations with Bills Coach Sean McDermott and other team representatives had focused solely on their well-being, without addressing whether the Bills’ game Sunday against the New England Patriots in Orchard Park, N.Y., will be played as scheduled.

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“We have not had that discussion,” Vincent said in a video conference with reporters. “We … are just constantly talking to the clubs and in particular the Bills. It’s really important that we just keep the pulse of the coach and the players and don’t get in front of that. And we’ll allow Sean and his team and his staff and the players, which are the most important thing here, to guide us if we have to make that decision collectively with the club.”

President Biden told reporters Wednesday that he spoke with Hamlin’s parents, who are with their son at the hospital. Further details of that conversation were not available.

Rooney said in his televised interview that Hamlin, 24, was resuscitated once following his injury. Hamlin’s uncle, Dorrian Glenn, had said during an interview Tuesday with CNN that Hamlin was resuscitated on the field and again at the hospital.

“He was only resuscitated once,” Rooney said. “Outside of that, things have just been moving in the right direction. But there’s not clarity at this point in terms of how long things are going to be, how long it’s going to take, where things are going to go. So for the family, it’s just a matter of seeing more positive signs and [to] hopefully keep building on that.”

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Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said the care given to Hamlin on the field Monday kept him alive.

“It’s certainly not an exaggeration to say that the skilled and the immediate response by all of these talented caregivers prevented a very tragic outcome at that moment,” Sills said.

The Bills said they would conduct team meetings and a practice-field walk-through Wednesday. McDermott and Bills players did not speak to reporters. The league has emphasized to teams this week that it has mental health resources available to players, coaches and staffers.

“I think it is certainly key that we acknowledge how great a strain this places on everyone involved, certainly the teams, the medical care providers, the staffs,” Sills said. “And this is not just for Buffalo and Cincinnati but across all our teams.”

Vincent became emotional as he spoke to media members about Monday’s events.

“My greatest fear had flashed in front of me at that particular moment,” Vincent said. “But for the goodness and grace of God, Damar is still here, and he’s still fighting. There’s no playbook for managing real-time … emotions associated with an immediate life-threatening event that occurred on Monday night.”

Vincent said “all of the focus has been on Damar,” but he and other league officials have begun to deal with the scheduling issues.

“Everything is being considered,” Vincent said.

The Bills-Patriots game remained scheduled for Sunday, pending the conversations about that game Vincent cited. This is the final weekend of the NFL’s regular season, with the playoffs scheduled to begin the following weekend. The Bengals are scheduled to host the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday in Cincinnati. If the league wants to play the Bills-Bengals game, it would have to extend the regular season.

“That conversation about what we do with that game has begun,” said Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy. “Troy, the commissioner [Roger Goodell], some of the rest of us are involved in those conversations. But they’re ongoing. We have no announcement to make at this time. Obviously we’re going to have to make a decision on that in the coming days, which we will. But there’s a lot of considerations in place there and a lot of people that we want to consult with, including the clubs involved, before that decision is final.”

As Bills safety Damar Hamlin remains hospitalized after suffering cardiac arrest, players and medical experts discuss his care and ways to make the game safer. (Video: Rich Matthews/The Washington Post)

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The NFL became adept at juggling its schedule in recent years because of coronavirus-related issues. In those cases, it told teams it could not always ensure competitive fairness and, if any game could not be played and teams finished with uneven numbers of games, winning percentage would determine playoff seeding.

In this case, the NFL could choose not to play the Bills-Bengals game. It could play it as a stand-alone game in an additional weekend added to the regular season, pushing back the playoffs and eliminating the idle weekend between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. Or it could employ a hybrid model by playing the Bills-Bengals game on a weekend that could include some playoff games — perhaps those in the NFC — while pushing back other playoff games.

“Those guiding principles that got us through … the 2020 season with covid, all of those things will be things that guide us through this conversation and making sure the proper equities [are] in place,” Vincent said. “As we saw, potentially there may be a lack of equity, where it may not be perfect but it will allow those that are participating, who have earned that right to play, to continue to play.”

Vincent said Hamlin’s health and the emotional states of the Bills players must remain the NFL’s primary focus.

“My concern is to make sure the men have what they need to function,” Vincent said. “And that’s getting through this day. Tomorrow is going to take care of itself.”