Family members of American football star Damar Hamlin say they are “deeply moved” by fan support after the player suffered a cardiac arrest during a primetime US National Football League game.
The Buffalo Bills player remains in critical condition after spending the night in a hospital intensive care unit, according to his team.
Hamlin collapsed after colliding with an opponent during the Monday match.
Fans have rallied behind the player.
The collision happened during the first quarter of the NFL game and Hamlin received on-field medical attention for more than 30 minutes before being taken to a local hospital. His team later confirmed the player had suffered a cardiac arrest and said that his heartbeat was restored on the field on Monday.
The NFL, which suspended the game between the Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals for the night, announced on Tuesday its commissioner, Roger Goodell, had spoken with both teams and informed them that the game would not resume this week.
The NFL has made “no decision” on whether the game will resume at a later date, the league said.
In their first remarks since the incident, Hamlin’s family said they wanted to share their “sincere gratitude for the love and support” from fans, including through donations to a toy drive he had launched, according to the statement shared by the NFL on Tuesday.
“Your generosity and compassion mean the world to us,” they said.
The NFL Players Association – a labour union representing the athletes – said that they were focused on “the health of our brother, Damar Hamlin”, adding that they would ensure both Bills and Bengals players receive support during this time.
The on-field emergency sparked an outpouring of support for Hamlin and brought attention back to the dangerous nature of America’s most popular sport as the NFL season approaches its climactic play-off stages.
Hamlin was tackling Bengals receiver Tee Higgins in the stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio, when Higgins’ helmet appeared to hit Hamlin in the chest. After initially getting to his feet, he fell on his back.
Players from both teams gathered around Hamlin as emergency medical staff gave CPR and oxygen. Several were seen visibly distressed, with many kneeling to pray and some in tears.
Television coverage repeatedly broke away from the scene on the field, while the crowd in Cincinnati remained silent during the ordeal.
NFL games are rarely suspended because of injury. Commentators said the fact that gameplay had stalled was a sign of the shocking and severe nature of the emergency.
The two teams are among the top Super Bowl contenders this year, with their head-to-head coming in the primetime Monday night slot in the penultimate week of the NFL’s regular season.
Hamlin, a native of McKees Rock, Pennsylvania, was drafted from the University of Pittsburgh by the Bills in 2021.
He has drawn praise for hosting annual Christmas toy drives in his hometown since before he was a paid athlete.
An online GoFundMe page for the toy drive was reshared after Hamlin collapsed on Monday and has raised over $4m (£3.3m).
The safety of American football has been much debated in recent years but usually over concussion rather than cardiac risks.
Many former NFL players have the the degenerative brain condition CTE which research has linked to repeated hits to the head.
Blunt trauma is common in contact sports, but it’s rare that it causes heart issues like this.
A direct hit to the chest can result in cardiac arrest. That’s when the heart stops beating properly and is unable to do its job of pumping blood around the body.
It’s different to a heart attack, which happens when blood supply to the heart muscle is cut off.
In Hamlin’s case, medics were able to quickly get his heart beating again. It’s not yet known what internal injuries he may have sustained from the incident and whether there has been any significant damage to his heart.
Good wishes for the stricken player have poured in and buildings across Cincinnati were lit up in blue on Monday evening, including Paycor Stadium where the incident occurred.
Basketball star LeBron James said: “It was a terrible thing to see and I wish nothing but the best for that kid.”
Bruce Sharpe, a Bills fan who was in the stadium when it happened, said it was “devastating”.
“Everything got dead silent,” he said. “We’re just praying that everything’s okay.”
Credit: BBC Sport