Instead of the NFL offering ‘thoughts and prayers’ to injured players, it should consider guaranteed contracts

OPINION: If the NFL really cared about its players, it wouldn’t be hellbent against joining the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball in offering financial security to its players upon signing.

A detail as fans hold a candlelight vigil for Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin at University of Cincinnati Medical Center on January 03, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jeff Dean/Getty Images)

The reaction to “Monday Night Football’s” chilling incident — Buffalo Bills safety Demar Hamlin nearly dying on the field — is similar to our nation’s response after a nightmarish mass shooting. 

There’s an outpouring of “thoughts and prayers.” There’s a renewed debate on violence and its vice grip on America. But such events soon fade in our memory while leaders do nothing. 

Then it’s back to business as usual until another occurrence restarts the cycle. And we all know another one is coming.

Hamlin’s situation was different in two respects. We’ve never seen a player require defibrillator paddles and 10 minutes of CPR after a play. The fear in our worst-case scenario typically involves thoughts of paralysis, as we anxiously await the movement of an arm and leg. We breathe sighs of relief if he can offer a thumbs up while being carted off the field. 

That’s the other unique aspect from Monday night when an ambulance finally drove Hamlin to the hospital: Play never resumed. 

NFL records suggest the postponement was unprecedented. Several games have included traumatic and tragic injuries that caused lengthy delays before players returned to action. In 1971, Detroit Lions wide receiver Chuck Hayes suffered a heart attack and died on the field, the NFL’s only fatality. Detroit and Chicago continued to play. The show always goes on, next man up. Until Hamlin went into cardiac arrest and nearly died.

Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin looks on during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Nov. 20, 2022, in Detroit. Hamlin collapsed on the field and appeared to be getting CPR before being driven off the field in an ambulance during an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson, File)

I’m a firm believer in thoughts and prayers, which the NFL freely offers its injured players. 

But provisions and prayers are more powerful.

Hamlin, 24 years old and in his second season, isn’t guaranteed another dime from the $3.6 million contract he signed in 2021, and he isn’t a vested NFL veteran, which takes three credited seasons. If not for his injury occurring in primetime during “Monday Night Football” in one of the season’s biggest and most watched games, he could’ve been on his own. However, NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent reportedly said the league will provide the necessary resources and benefits that Hamlin needs moving forward. 

Upon hearing that news, retired NFL player Chidi Ahanotu tweeted a great question: “Oh is that the policy now for our NFL Brothers? Or just Damar Hamlin?”

It’s easy for the league to show concern for Hamlin now after he’s led the national news cycle for days. But if it really cared about players, the NFL wouldn’t be hellbent against joining the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball in offering financial security upon signing.

“My question to the NFL is when do salaries become guaranteed?” Cleveland sportscaster Garrett Bush said in a viral video

“If you know these young men are out there and they could die on that football field, I don’t give a damn what your thoughts and prayers are. Do the right thing  … I’ll be damned if I’m gonna sit up here and pat [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell on his back for running this organization the way he does. They run it like a criminal organization.”

No lies told.

The only thing keeping the NFL from guaranteed contracts is greed, the same vice that created a 17-game season and expanded playoff games. The league is aiming for $25 billion in revenue by 2027, and the goal is well within reach. Players are mere cogs in a printing press that cranks out money. 

MLB and the NBA didn’t normalize fully guaranteed contracts until, respectively, Catfish Hunter signed in 1974 and Larry Bird signed in 1983. Last summer, when the Cleveland Browns signed quarterback Deshaun Watson to an unprecedented, guaranteed deal for $230 million, NFL owners went ballistic — and it had nothing to do with alleged sexual assaults.

“I wish they hadn’t guaranteed the whole contract,” Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said. “I don’t know that he should’ve been the first guy to get a fully guaranteed contract. That’s something that’s groundbreaking, and it’ll make negotiations harder with others.” He was thinking of his own star quarterback, Lamar Jackson, who rightfully wants the same security

Yet, several high-profile players have signed deals since Watson and NONE were guaranteed. The players union has filed a grievance, accusing the league of collusion. 

What a shock. The league that refuses to hire Black coaches and was forced to end race-norming assessments plays dirty? The league that blackballed Colin Kaepernick while embracing domestic/sexual abusers can’t be trusted?

Yes, the NFL has changed a number of rules and policies since 2002 in an effort to protect the players. We saw the latest example this season when Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa’s head injuries led to modifications of concussion protocol. But it’s impossible to keep a straight face when Goodell and team owners say they care. The league denies ESPN’s report that play was supposed to resume Monday after a five-minute warmup period once Hamlin was removed from the field. OK, maybe they offered seven minutes. 

But absolutely offer thoughts and prayers for Hamlin and all the players who risk life and limb for our entertainment.

They need guaranteed contracts, too.


Deron Snyder, from Brooklyn, is an award-winning columnist who lives near D.C. and pledged Alpha at HU-You Know! He’s reaching high, lying low, moving on, pushing off, keeping up, and throwing down. Got it? Get more at blackdoorventures.com/deron.

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