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‘It Can Happen to Anybody’: Cam Heyward, Steelers Shaken by Damar Hamlin Tragedy



Cam Heyward Damar Hamlin as the Steelers played against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. (Mitchell Northam / Steelers Now)

PITTSBURGH — Two days after the terrifying events occurred in Cincinnati, Bills safety and Pittsburgh native Damar Hamlin is still at the front of everyone’s mind, including NFL players.

The Steelers’ locker room is no exception to that rule. Pittsburgh is Hamlin’s hometown and many of the players know Hamlin personally as a result of the connections. Kenny Pickett is Hamlin’s close friend and former teammate while playing at Pitt. On Wednesday, Cam Heyward, who has been in the NFL for 12 seasons detailed just how hard it is to compartmentalize what the players saw happen on Monday.

“Players really rally around players,” Heyward said. “The coaches all try to be there for the players. We’re just worried about that young man that’s in Cincinnati right now. You know, we understand what players are thinking, but we can only focus on Damar getting healthy and making a speedy recovery.”

As NFL teams continue to show leaguewide support for Hamlin, they must deal with the overlying specter of games that are scheduled to be played on Sunday. Those are not insignificant games, either, as many will determine who makes the playoffs and the seeding of the teams in each conference. However, as teams go through the week with their preparation, it becomes hard to focus on those games when Hamlin is still in critical condition.

“There’s always going to be guys thinking about that kid and what happened,” Heyward said. “Nobody ever thinks that risk is going to take place, but right now, I can only do my job. But I can’t help but not think about that kid.”

Perhaps what makes the situation all the more terrifying is the nature of the situation. Damar Hamlin suffered the sudden injury after what looked to be a routine hit by Tee Higgins. After all, players go out each day and make tackles on gameday. That goes to the front of the mind of any player. It becomes scary and tough to continue to play moving forward. The human element takes over the mind at that point and the game gets thrown out the window. For players, this is a hard situation to deal with mentally.

“I think, and you know I wasn’t even watching the game but I got a text, that me and my wife were just watching and you just think about the fact that it could happen to anybody,” Heyward said. “It’s happened in different sports before. Luckily, we have first responders and nurses, and doctors that are right there for us. Not everybody is given that benefit. I like to think that we’re more protected than a lot of other people. They rushed out of there and took care of business. All I can do is keep thinking about that guy, keeping him in our prayers, and hoping he makes a full recovery.”

In times like this, one of the most important things for the league is mental health support. Any potential changes to the schedule are above individual players’ heads, but the emotional and mental support for players is not something that can be brushed off. So, are the resources that the NFL has given to the players enough?

“I think there can always be growth in that,” Heyward said. “Anyone should never shy away from that. But we have to keep progressing in that approach. There’s new knowledge behind everything. Whether it’s the players, coaches, families, these people all have to be taken care of.”

The players will continue to move forward with heavy hearts and unease in their minds. That includes even the most veteran type of players like Heyward because what happened on Monday was unprecedented and scary for anyone associated with the NFL.

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