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How ESPN handled broadcast horrifying Damar Hamlin injury

ESPN had to adjust on the fly after Bills safety Damar Hamlin sustained a horrifying injury.

Hamlin, a 24-year-old safety on the Bills, collapsed on the field after tacklong Bengals wideout Tee Higgins in the first quarter. Hamlin was administered CPR on the field and taken to the hospital in an ambulance. The game was temporarily suspended in wake of the injury before being postponed for the evening.

ESPN cut in and out of break multiple times as Joe Buck and Troy Aikman spoke somberly about what was transpiring on the field, as the players on both teams knelt down in prayer and fought back tears. Lisa Salters, the sideline reporter, informed the audience that Hamlin had received CPR.

Eventually, ESPN made the decision to switch from the game broadcasters to the studio, where Suzy Kolber was hosting with Adam Schefter and Booger McFarland.

ESPN switched to a studio broadcast after the injury.
ESPN switched to a studio broadcast after the injury.
ESPN had to quickly pivot after Damar Hamlin's terrifying injury.
ESPN had to quickly pivot after Damar Hamlin’s terrifying injury.

“The emotion that we’re experiencing tonight is really hard to describe,” Kolber said. “We cannot and will not speculate. What we do know is he needed CPR, and that in itself is terrifying.”

McFarland, who had a nine-year career as a player and has been covering the NFL as an analyst for over a decade, said, “it’s something like we’ve never seen before. I’ve never been a part of it, never heard about it. You hate to keep repeating the same thing but all you can do is pray for this young man right now. Anytime you bring CPR into effect, hopefully they’ve gotten word,

“I’m sure he has family out there, hopefully the Bills and the doctors are communicating with the family. I can only imagine what my family would [be thinking]. They’d want updates of what’s going on, just to make sure in real-time. That’s somebody’s son, somebody’s brother, somebody’s father. They want to know what’s going on.”

ESPN reported that Hamlin’s family was at the game in Cincinnati, and that his mother traveled with him to the hospital.

Schefter said that “it’s chilling to watch it — you can just see on social media, every single team, player and person offering up their prayers to Damar Hamlin. The players were sent to the locker room and the game doesn’t matter. The game is so secondary to everything else. No one cares about the game. Everyone cares about this young man, his family, and finding out how he’s doing.”

ESPN shows players gathering in the tunnels as the game was paused.
ESPN shows players gathering in the tunnels as the game was paused.

Kolber concluded a segment, “let’s candidly say, this is what we do for a living, is we sit here and have to discuss this and talk about it, it’s really tough. All we want, just like everyone in this world, is to know that Damar Hamlin is going to be okay. That’s it.”

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