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2 NFL injuries show it’s futile to try and script our lives

Aaron Rodgers and scene of Damar Hamlin injury on January 2, 2023

Debby Wong | Shutterstock | Wikimedia Commons

John Touhey - published on 09/13/23

The injury on Monday of QB Aaron Rogers and the miraculous recovery of safety Damar Hamlin show us just how fragile and remarkably unpredictable life can be.

When Aaron Rodgers ran out of the tunnel at MetLife Stadium this past Monday night, the moment was made for TV. It was the anniversary of 9/11 and Rodgers was holding high an American flag. His new Jets teammates had lined up in jubilant support. The sellout crowd broke into a deafening roar.

For months Jets fans had eagerly anticipated this moment. After Aaron Rodgers finalized his contract with the team in late April, the hype train left the station. It was assumed that Rodgers would once again be in the running to win the league MVP award. Many sports shows picked the Jets as Super Bowl favorites. Rodgers and his teammates agreed, as did Jets fans. It seemed a logical assumption, given Rodgers’ extraordinary talent.

Less than half an hour after Aaron Rodgers came running out that tunnel, however, those dreams of glory came to a heartbreaking end due to a torn Achilles.

Scripting it all out

There is a funny NFL ad where we are taken “behind the scenes” to a meeting where the new season is being precisely planned out, down to the winner of each game. The script that the players and producers are writing is filled with exciting twists and turns, interpersonal dramas, miracle plays, etc. The ad is playing off the notion that NFL games are fixed, and the joke is funny because the football season is so unpredictable in most ways.

The ad is also relatable because all of us have the experience of trying to map out our futures. Not surprisingly, the scripts we write for ourselves tend to end in triumph and glory.

I remember a co-worker years ago who excitedly told me how he planned to rise up the ladder of the film company where we worked to eventually become the corporate CFO. I was amazed by his absolute certainty that his plan would be realized. A couple of years later, after I had moved on to another job, the company was gutted, and my old co-worker was laid off with practically everyone else. Things never seem to work out exactly the way we imagine they will.

Damar Hamlin, NFL safety

Damar Hamlin knows this from experience. He was at MetLife stadium on Monday night, too. The young safety was on the sideline with his Buffalo Bills teammates, but he was inactive for the game. It was a miracle he was even there. Eight months previously, during another Monday Night Football game, Hamlin had almost died.

Like Aaron Rogers’ injury, it happened during an ordinary play. While he was making a tackle, Hamlin collided with an opposing team member and experienced commotio cordis, an extremely rare condition in which the heart is stopped by a sudden blow. According to Gordon Tomaselli, the former President of the American Heart Association, “The impact induces a potentially lethal heart rhythm disturbance, or arrhythmia, called ventricular fibrillation.”

Damar Hamlin is taken off of Paycor Stadium field by ambulance after his injury on January 2, 2023.
Damar Hamlin is taken off of Paycor Stadium field by ambulance after his injury on January 2, 2023.

Minutes that felt like hours

Millions of viewers were watching when Damar Hamlin suffered sudden cardiac arrest. When people saw that Hamlin wasn’t moving, the entire stadium fell silent. A medical team rushed onto the field. Players from both teams fell to their knees and began to weep and pray. Many fans did the same. Long minutes that felt like hours passed and still Hamlin didn’t move. Eventually, after an ambulance drove onto the field to take Hamlin away, the game was called off – a move unprecedented in NFL history.

There were serious worries whether Damar Hamlin would survive. The young man had to be resuscitated twice – once on the field and later in the hospital ICU. Fortunately, he was able to breathe on his own after a few days and doctors found that miraculously he had not sustained any brain damage. Hamlin remained in the hospital for over a week. Yet exactly 252 days later, the former star safety of Central Catholic Highschool in Pittsburgh was back on an NFL sideline with the Bills, still pursuing his football dreams.

Damar Hamlin would surely have liked to play in the game on Monday night, but he was clearly happy and grateful to be there with his teammates. When he announced back in April that he was returning to football, he said: “I’m taking it one day at a time, and I’m trusting God, you know? I’m walking by faith.”

Saints are made by unforeseen events

Hamlin’s words are a direct echo of St. Paul. He once planned to eradicate the Christian faith, before he experienced something unexpected — a vision that left him blind (later followed by arrests, shipwrecks, and countless other unplanned events).

All the saints have stories about how God changed their lives through unforeseen (and often unwelcome) occurrences. For St. Ignatius it all started with a cannonball. St. Juan Diego’s life changed when he encountered a mysterious lady while traveling by a hill. Then there was St. Francis of Assisi. According to one biographer, when Francis was young, he had a touch of “vanity and narcissism,” always wanted to be the “center of attention,” and “was averse to ugliness.” In spite of his failings, Francis felt God tugging at his heart, though it took a couple of serious illnesses and an encounter with a leper to finally set his life on a radically different path.

As Christians, the unforeseen is so essential to the way we experience Jesus working in our lives that it should be a no-brainer for us to expect and embrace the unexpected. Alas, just like the rest of the world, most of us continue to plot ideal futures for ourselves, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that our lives have another Author.

Done for the season, but not for life

As for Aaron Rodgers, to the dismay of Jets fans it was announced on Tuesday that he is done for the season. That was definitely not in anyone’s script. We will pray that he makes a full and speedy recovery. Hopefully he will see the field for the Jets next season, making a spectacular comeback, if that’s what he decides he wants.

Regardless, Rodgers almost certainly has a bright future in broadcasting or any other field he decides to pursue after football. Or maybe he’ll retire with his millions and travel the globe. Whatever path Aaron Rodgers decides to take, he can be certain that, just like with the rest of us, the days ahead will not go quite as scripted.

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