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Saturday Sports: What Damar Hamlin's accident says about football's violent nature

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's time for sports. And of course, the overwhelming story of the week is the injury to Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills this past Monday night. During a game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Mr. Hamlin went into cardiac arrest. He had to be resuscitated. He is now reported to be awake and conversing with his family from his hospital bed. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us. Howard, thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: This is good news. But do we need to also examine if Damar Hamlin's injury should be what amounts to a call of action to examine this thoroughly popular and destructive game?

BRYANT: Well, I think this is a conversation in so many ways that you and I have been having for how many years now?

SIMON: Quite a few.

BRYANT: Almost 20.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: And the cynical view on this has always been, well, football is a $15 billion juggernaut, and it's going to be a $25 billion juggernaut by the end of the decade. And now that you're adding the gambling into it as well, the financial incentives to play the sport, to run the sport are all too much to talk about any sort of calls to action. And then Monday happens. And then you look at what happens here, and you have a young man who's on the field whose heart has stopped, and they're performing CPR on national television.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: And it's just an incredibly cynical thing for me to even consider that this wouldn't be some form of call to action. We've said over the years that football is in many ways and just very clearly - it's a death sport.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: And it's the sport that they always - what's the line about football? It's the one sport with a 100% guaranteed injury rate. The goal in football is to hurt people. And so when you see something like this, there's no way out. We can talk as much as we want about the machine of football. We can talk about the ratings of football. We talk about how many different TV shows get destroyed by football every Sunday because the game is so popular. But if you're going to talk about all that, you have to talk about this as well. This is not an aberration. This is part of the game.

SIMON: You've said to me many times over the years - I quote it all the time - the problem with football is football.

BRYANT: Yes. And this is the extreme side of what this is. And it's not as though we haven't had moments that give us that wake-up call. You had a player die on the field in 1971, Chuck Hughes.

SIMON: Yep.

BRYANT: And as you and I were talking about yesterday, they finished that game.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: That game still reached its conclusion.

SIMON: It was against the Bears. Ten minutes later, they picked up play. Yeah.

BRYANT: That's right. And we've seen Darryl Stingley paralyzed against the Oakland Raiders when he was with the New England Patriots. We - Dennis Byrd, Mike Utley, Ryan Shazier - we've seen these catastrophic injuries. We had - Korey Stringer didn't die on the field but died during training camp, I believe of heatstroke. And so we know what this game does. And then there's obviously the controversy of whether or not Roger Goodell, who showed a real lack of leadership, I believe, on Monday and - by suggesting, you know, when the game was - on the broadcast, telling us that there was going to be - you know, Goodell didn't say it, but they're denying that the broadcast - when Joe Buck told us that they were going to have a five-minute warmup and then go back to playing.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: And I thought about that and said, of course, they're going to go back to playing. This is what they're used to. This is what we're all used to. There's an injured 49er on the field, and then they go to a commercial, and then we go back to keep playing because that's what happens in the game. And so when this happens, it's not a shock. But it needs to be a shock because whether we're talking about this as a 24-year-old or what happens to these players later in life, this is the reality of this game that gives everybody so much joy. It's not funny.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media, thanks so much. Good to hear you.

BRYANT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.