Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson was cooking dinner Monday night while his wife and his daughters watched the primetime game between the Bills and Bengals on TV in the room adjacent to the kitchen. He remembers his daughter alerting him that there had been a big hit and a player was down. As a someone who has been in the NFL for more than a decade, Peterson didn’t think much of it at the time.
“I really didn’t see the hit,” he said Thursday. “I just saw everyone gathering around him.”
As soon as ESPN play-by-play announcer Joe Buck alerted viewers that Bills safety Damar Hamlin was receiving CPR, though, Peterson immediately sent his daughters upstairs to their rooms. He didn’t want them to see anything like that.
“Obviously my daughters know I play this game,” Peterson said. “We didn’t want to put any fear into their minds or hearts.”
As he watched Hamlin being loaded into an ambulance, Peterson’s mind started to wander. He knows the game of football is violent at its core. That understanding is prerequisite to playing the sport in any capacity. He signed up for that a long time ago.
That said, Peterson was forced to grapple with his own mortality in the aftermath of what happened to Hamlin on such a seemingly routine play.
“It definitely puts fear in your heart,” Peterson said. “It is going to be something that guys think about going into the game because we just saw it.”
The gravity of the situation has been weighing on a lot of NFL players this week as they prepare for the final week of the regular season.
“They had to pretty much revive him right there on the field,” Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson said. “It’s definitely tough to deal with and tough to think about.”
The good news is Hamlin is showing “remarkable improvement” after going into cardiac arrest during Monday’s game and needing to be resuscitated on the field. Though he is still being listed in critical condition, Hamlin has awakened and is able to communicate through writing, according to doctor at the the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. He cannot speak because of a breathing tube in his throat.
Not long after the incident occurred, Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell reached out to his players. He expressed his concern and made everyone aware of the mental health resources available to them
“These guys all look at each other as part of the brotherhood of playing in the NFL,” O’Connell said. “I was fortunate enough to consider myself part of that, as well, as a former player. I wanted them to know how much I was aware of what they may be going through and that all of us collectively were going to be thinking about Damar and having our thoughts and prayers with him.”
Though it’s unknown how many players used the mental health resources this week, Vikings special-teams coordinator Matt Daniels said he sought therapy himself. This week has been particularly triggering to Daniels because his father died this past summer after going into cardiac arrest. As difficult as it has been for Daniels to confront that personal loss, it also has allowed him to better comfort some of his players.
“I can go to a guy like Patrick Jones, who has a relationship with Damar Hamlin, and sit down and talk to him,” Daniels said. “I think it’s important. That’s the exact reason why we build those relationship and the exact reason why we get to know our players. You get a better idea of who is really triggered by that type of stuff.”
Asked about his experience as a former player, Daniels said while he used to worry about things such as getting paralyzed, he never feared for his life while on the field. But he understands that thought is likely going to be on the mind of a lot of his players this weekend.
As for Peterson, though his mind will probably wander shortly before kickoff, for better or for worse, he doesn’t think it’ll take very long for things to go back to normal.
“You can’t play this game tiptoeing,” he said. “You have to play at full speed, and I believe after the first couple of plays, guys will get back into the thick of things.”