THOUSAND OAKS — Rams coach Sean McVay opened his team meeting Wednesday morning by letting his players and coaches know about the emotions he felt when he saw Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapse on the field during Monday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
McVay struggled to find the words before describing an uneasy uncertainty coming from the pit in his stomach, a feeling that many across the NFL community could probably relate to.
“You don’t know exactly how to describe it, but you know it’s a terrible thing,” McVay said about watching Hamlin, who remains in critical condition but showed signs of improvement, according to a statement from the Bills. “You just hope that what seems to be an incredibly special young man makes a full recovery and it’s hard to fathom.”
McVay wanted his players to know that they are not alone with their feelings and concerns before allowing them the space to have a team discussion. Rams middle linebacker and team captain Bobby Wagner reassured his teammates that it’s OK to be vulnerable and express their emotions.
“You have traumatic experiences, you have to find a way to deal with them,” Wagner said. “The best way to deal with them is expressing those feelings. The thing that we’re taught to do in this sport because it’s such a quote, unquote “manly sport” is to hide your feelings, hide your emotions, and any expression of these feelings and emotions makes you less of a man. … I think that’s a myth. Talking about your feelings, talking about things that affect you mentally, physically are more manly than anything because it takes a lot of courage to talk about those things.”
McVay, Wagner and many of the team leaders have been tasked with the daunting challenge of getting the Rams mentally and physically prepared to play a game Sunday in Seattle while they attempt to manage their feelings and concerns and as they wait for more positive news about Hamlin. McVay said some of his players know Hamlin, the Bills’ second-year player from Pittsburgh.
“I think you don’t minimize what a big deal that is and how important it is,” McVay said about getting his players ready for Sunday’s regular-season finale. “With the appropriate emotion and empathy, you try … you don’t ever say that you’re just going to be normal as is. I think you acknowledge it, but you do have to be able to move forward in the right way, while also being understanding of the amazing range of emotions that I’m sure so many different people are feeling and that’s the best way I know how to go about it is asking the right questions, but also then making sure you have the appropriate understanding and then how do we best heal and move forward the right way while never minimizing what a serious thing this is.”
For Wagner, it’s easier for him to get ready for a game because he’s seen a handful of traumatic experiences throughout his 11-year NFL career, including in 2015 when Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette suffered a career-ending neck injury on the field. But Wagner understands everyone deals with their emotions differently and he expressed the importance of letting them know it’s OK to process this situation in their own ways.
“Reiterating that you’re not by yourself,” Wagner said. “You’re not the only person who saw this. The whole world saw this. You don’t have to be the only person that deals with this or deals with those thoughts or have those thoughts.”
Hamlin, 24, was down on the field for about nine minutes and had CPR administered, according to the TV broadcast, before leaving in an ambulance.
“In the moment, it’s scary,” Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield said about watching the situation unfold. “It looked like an ordinary play and that’s the scary part. … It’s tough to watch and to see somebody collapse like that.
“It’s a violent sport, but that’s about broken bones and different injuries like that, not life and death. This is something that I think we’re all going through for the first time.”
McVay added: “You’re feeling this pit in your gut and you’re immediately praying that he’s going to be OK. Nine minutes probably seemed like an hour’s worth of time.”
McVay praised Bills coach Sean McDermott and Bengals coach Zac Taylor for how they handled the situation.
“There’s not a manual on how you handle something like that other than trusting your gut, being considerate to the human being way before anything about football,” McVay said.
Wagner said the players of the Bengals and Bills should decide when it’s appropriate to return to the field because “they saw stuff we didn’t see … that’s up to them and those two teams.”