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Damar Hamlin Teaches Us the Game of Life

Damar Hamlin is now at home watching his team, The Bills, play on TV. However, on the evening of January 2, 2023, on Monday Night Football, millions of Americans witnessed an unfolding anomaly. The unusual events may very well foretell a healthier society and future.

The tackle that caused the cardiac arrest of safety Damar Hamlin is not the anomaly to which I refer. There have been five other professional athletes in history to suffer a cardiac arrest while on a playing field.

As a champion of inner fitness, I relentlessly envision inner health and wellbeing practices one day becoming as mainstream as physical exercise. You will turn on the television, and I will lead a 30-minute inner fitness experience.

Faced with ever-increasing life stress, it only makes sense for society to learn preventative strategies to strengthen and protect mental, emotional, and spiritual health. As a nation, we have been inching toward this destiny. Over the years, we've seen social warming to the once-taboo subject of mental health.

However, Damar Hamlin's cardiac arrest may be a turning point that takes us one giant step into a proactive, preventative care, inner fitness mindset.

Several deviations from the norm caught my eye as Damar Hamlin lay on the ground. I saw professional football players, coaches, and support staff openly crying and consoling one another. The uncommon collective display of emotion by men in the rugged sport of football was the first thing that took my breath away.

Following Hamlin's collapse onto the field, his teammates and those from the opposing team quickly surrounded him. What kind of solidarity was this?

Was this circling of their teammate a conscious move to prevent the circulation of social media images and videos? I didn't know. However, protecting Damar Hamlin in his vulnerable state demonstrated to the world that social media does not deserve carte-blanch access to our private moments. We get to choose the parts of our lives we hold sacred and near.

Then, the NFL suspended play for five minutes. But five minutes later, none of the players returned to the field. Team solidarity, prioritizing life, and the need to stop and be with one's emotions trumped protocol, victory, and commerce.

During the broadcast, ESPN newscaster Marcus Spears was at a loss for words as he showed fans' emotions. The glib fast-talking banter and reporting typical of television media became unapologetically slow.

Reporter Dan Orlovsky's polish gave way as he prayed for Damar Hamlin while on the air. With a bewildered shrug of his shoulders and shaking of his head, Orlovsky surrendered to the only act that felt meaningful and comforting to him - prayer.

These images were firsts or rarities for sure. And there were more to come.

When the Black NFL player collapsed, with each passing second that Hamlin's body lay limp on the field, the tension and distance between media networks, teams, players, stadium fans, and millions of viewers collapsed into a shared humanity. The show-stopping resistance and backlash associated with iconic images of Black athletes on a field – a bended knee and fists thrust high in the air – were absent. Present was a genuine sympathetic concern for the suffering and misfortune of another.

Hamlin's seeming tragedy opened hearts and coalesced a community that resonated far beyond the playing field:

Millions of dollars poured into Hamlin's toy drive fundraiser ($8.9 million at the time of this writing).

Hamlin's Bills jersey #3 became the most purchased of all athletes and sports teams.

New, enlightening, and empowering conversations entered our lives. Conversations about mental health (specifically with Black men), the humanity of professional athletes, and a forging of new priorities and considerations


Hamlin's public cardiac failure became a lesson in human resiliency and self-care.

Fans and spectators wanted Hamlin to wake up. They did not want to bear the pain of watching a 24-year-old die. We believe that the hard-won dream of becoming an NFL player shouldn't turn to dust before it is lived.

I was seeing encouraging signs of inner fitness. Spontaneously, people were publicly praying and hoping, being vulnerable, acknowledging pain, engaging in uncommon conversations to help them endure and process their pain, and creating a community to gain strength. In our never-let-them-see-you-sweat society, this transparency was new behavior. This is the kind of behavior that supports emotional healing and resiliency.

Of course, instant community and hope amid adversity are not new. We have seen their spontaneous birth and evaporation throughout history—the 9/11 attack on the world trade center, Tiananmen Square, and most recently, George Floyd.

However, my heart is buoyant with the hope that these behaviors can multiply and shift into new personal and cultural habits that forge wellbeing and resiliency.

When adversity hits and knocks you down, leave room inside of your loss and overwhelm for something greater than you to be on the playing field with you. Let yourself feel your feelings and shed tears to help you process where you are. Muster the strength and courage to acknowledge where you are and what has happened. Don't jump to conclusions about the moment and events; process them – be in dialogue with yourself. Find a community where you feel accepted, supported, and unexposed by vulnerable moments.

And most importantly, have a vision for what's possible for your life and lean in. Don't assume life has given up on you, and don't give up on yourself or your potential.

These steps will move you closer to the most important person in your life, your internal Self. Honor the untapped resilience that lives inside you and every human being. This kind of self-alignment and consideration will surely fill your life with new and uncommon strengths and ways of being. These newfound behaviors will find their way into society and how we care for humanity.

When Damar Hamlin opened his eyes and said, "Did we win," millions of hearts felt lighter and filled with expanded or renewed hope.

Let's dare to use Hamlin's undaunted enthusiasm to live life more deliberately and wake up as winners in the game of life.

Here's a simple 5-step process for the next time life tackles you: 1) Take a moment to say, wow, that hurt. Doing so helps you stay conscious; 2) Acknowledge and name everything that has just spired: That "thing, event, relationship" just knocked the wind out of me; I feel lost, angry, sad...; 3) Remember that in the big picture, life is not happening to you, life is happening – life is bumping into life, and creating more life through how we respond. 4) Respond with a vision of yourself on the other side of these difficulties; 5) Decide to use this adversity to grow – seek the lessons in the experience that make you more loving of yourself and resilient.

Here's to playing the game of life well.

Tina Lifford plays Aunt Vi on the critically acclaimed television show, Queen Sugar. The Little Book of Big Lies: A Journey Into Inner Fitness is her first book; released by Harper Collins, November 2019, and is full of the kind of internal “actions” that will transform your thinking and your life. You can also join her at a workout in her Inner Fitness Studio to practice strengthening your wellbeing and making it actionable in your day to day life. Don't miss the latest news from Tina Lifford and The Inner Fitness Project. Sign up our monthly newsletter here.

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