“I’m gonna be soaking it in all night,” Hamlin, 25, told reporters while walking the red carpet on Wednesday, July 12.
He proceeded to gush about the Buffalo Bills medical staff, who will be honored with the Pat Tillman Award for Service during the event for their quick action following Hamlin’s medical emergency in January.
“It means everything. We shared a special moment together,” Hamlin said on Wednesday of the men and women who helped in his recovery. “I’ll be bonded with that medical staff for life. They’re like family.”
In June, the Bills announced that their training staff would be the recipient of one of the ESPYs’ biggest honors, which was created in memory of former NFL player and U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tilman who was killed in 2004 while serving in Afghanistan.
“By the grace of god and divine intervention we had the best outcome we could have prayed for or imagined,” Nate Breske, head of the Bills’ medical team, shared during his acceptance speech on behalf of the staff. “It was a massive effort of specialists that came together to do their jobs that night.”
Breske then addressed Hamlin — who presented the award after receiving a standing ovation from the audience — directly, saying, “Damar thank you for staying alive brother. We are so honored to be standing up here next to such a strong and gorgeous human being.”
Back in January, the professional football player collapsed on the field after tackling Cincinnati Bengals receiver Tee Higgins. Medical staff rushed to help him and conducted nearly 10 minutes of CPR before he was transferred to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. The coaches, players and NFL agreed to postpone the game, despite reports surfacing that the league initially wanted to continue playing.
“Emotions you can imagine in both locker rooms, and I commend both of those coaches. Tough situation to go back in and look at 53 men in the locker room and not that they asked but just to try and calm people down,” NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent said in a conference call, per multiple outlets. “It was obvious on the phone with them that the emotions were extremely high. It was a very volatile situation, and I thought the coaches, they led tonight. They led their locker rooms.”
A day after being hospitalized, Hamlin’s uncle Dorrian Glenn told ESPN that his nephew’s condition was already improving.
“We are just going to continue to pray, and I know he is in great hands with the medical team he has here. They have been doing a tremendous job,” Glenn shared outside of the hospital while also adding that Hamlin had to be resuscitated for the second time after arriving at the medical center. “I know he’s still here, I know he’s fighting.”
On January 9, the athlete was released from the hospital and back in Buffalo. “He is doing well and this is the next stage of his recovery,” Dr. Timothy Pritts shared in a statement.
Days later, Hamlin shared some updates on his recovery in an Instagram video.
“As I continue to make so much progress recovering, I think it’s finally a good time to share a few things,” he explained. “I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of all the love, all the support, and everything that’s just been coming in my way. What happened to me on Monday Night Football I feel is a direct example of God using me as a vessel to share my passion and my love directly. … Ever since I became a Buffalo Bill, it’s been nothing but genuine love and support. It really encouraged me, and helped me to get through the toughest moments.”
Over a month after his major health scare, Hamlin made an appearance at Super Bowl LVII in February and shared in a Good Morning America interview that he wants to return to the game “eventually,” while adding that “processing [his] emotions” had been the toughest part of his recovery so far.
In April, Hamlin and the Bills’ general manager, Brandon Beane, announced that Hamlin was cleared by doctors for the upcoming 2023 football season.
“I’m thankful and I’m blessed,” Hamlin said at the time. “This event was life-changing, but it’s not the end of my story. I’m here to announce that I plan on making a comeback to the NFL.”
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Two months later, Hamlin returned to the field and completed his first practice with the Bills.