Damar Hamlin, safety for the Buffalo Bills, suffered a shocking injury during the Monday Night Football exhibition against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 2, 2023. During Monday’s game, the 24-year-old made a tackle on Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins and stood up as he began to walk away from the standard hit.
However, with only 5:58 left in the game’s first quarter, as #3 began to gather his bearings, Hamlin lost consciousness and collapsed on the field. The star player received immediate medical attention on the field and was later transported to the University of Cincinnati’s Medical Center, where he was sedated. ESPN revealed that the Pennsylvania native underwent cardiac arrest following the hit and had his heartbeat restored at Paycor Field. The Bills’ defensive stud has since been listed as sedated and in critical condition.
Hamlin was just the latest unsettling injury in the NFL, with the league being home to some of the most disturbing injuries in sports.
And as a result, the league has long since been subjected to criticisms about player safety, constant discussions about CTE, and even opinions leaning toward abolishing the sport as a whole. Here are seven more athletes who suffered some of the most shocking injuries in NFL history.
AFC North rivals the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers faced off in a 2015 NFL Playoff game which saw tensions rising throughout the night. The emotions came to a boiling point when Antonio Brown ran across the middle of the field to snag a thrown ball from quarterback Ben Rothlisberger before Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict delivered what some labeled a “cheap shot” to Brown’s head.
Burfict’s hit caused Brown’s body to go limp, knocking the star wide receiver out of the game with a concussion and possibly changing his life forever.
Chicago Bears wideout Johnny Knox was one of the most endearing underdog stories in the NFL when he was drafted in 2009 by the Windy City. He was selected in the fifth round, coming from a relatively unknown school in Abilene Christian University.
However, his career ended in 2011 during a game against the Seattle Seahawks. Bears QB slung a pass to Knox over the middle as they attempted to put together a drive. After he caught the ball, Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor forced a fumble, with Knox trying to recover the pigskin. As he did so, defensive end Anthony Hargrove folded him, the receiver suffering a thoracolumbar fracture-dislocation. The game would be the underdog’s final NFL game, with the Bears releasing him in 2013 and Knox retiring the same year.
During a 2022/23 regular season game between the Miami Dolphins and the Cincinnati Bengals, Phin’s star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa scrambles about to complete a pass, but is sacked by a Bengals defender.
As he’s sacked, Tagovailoa, 24, was violently slammed to the ground and hit his head, causing his body to freeze in what is known as a fencing response. The QB would be stretchered away due to his injuries and knocked out of the game.
In the same season, he would later reaggravate his head injury against the Packers, with the athlete revealing there are portions of his days and games that he can’t remember.
On Nov. 18, 2018, Washington’s quarterback Alex Smith was taken down in the backfield during a game against the Houston Texans. In a freak accident, Smith was taken down awkwardly, resulting in the athlete suffering a compound fracture. The former first-round pick ultimately broke his tibia and fibula in his right leg and would need 17 surgeries to fully recover from his shocking injury.
However, during his road to recovery, Alex suffered from an infection of flesh-eating bacteria that stunted his healing, prolonging the process. Nevertheless, the QB would defy the odds, make a recovery, and return to the gridiron in 2020 during a week five game against the Los Angeles Rams, and win Comeback Player of the Year.
Russell Wilson suffered a fierce slam to the turf in a rivalry game between his Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs. The star athlete snapped the ball and, after realizing none of his receivers were open, took off running down the field.
However, as he attempted to grab the first down for his squad, he was grabbed from behind and hurled to the ground, with his head breaking his fall, resulting in a concussion and what appears to be a mouth full of blood. Wilson was able to walk off the field and enter concussion protocol, but the image of the athlete was unsettling, as he appeared not to know where he was or what had transpired.
It’s difficult to talk about NFL injuries and not mention Joe Theismann. The former Washington Football Team quarterback experienced one of the most gruesome injuries in the sport when his team faced off against their rivals, the New York Giants, on November 18, 1985 — 33 years to the date before Alex Smith’s terrifying leg injury.
During the Monday Night Football matchup, Theismann received the ball back from their running back John Riggins through a flea-flicker play and was then swarmed by Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson, with Carson missing the initial sack. Taylor leaped for Joe, resulting in the sack, but then the quarterback’s torso buckled as the Giants player’s knee cracked his right leg, breaking the lower right leg and fracturing both his tibia and fibula, with his bone piercing through his skin. Due to the shocking injury, Joe Theismann was forced to retire from pro football.
After notching a pro bowl appearance in 2016, Ryan Shazier was set to have an illustrious career in the NFL. Unfortunately, his injury would forever alter the trajectory of his football life. During a 2017 game against the Bengals, Shazier attempted to bring down one of Cincy’s wide receivers by lunging with his headfirst. However, the collision left the athlete left him a person with paraplegia, unable to walk.
After the tackle, you can see #50 immediately grabbing his back and frantically calling for help. The pro bowler would undergo career-ending spinal stabilization surgery two days after his injury to learn how to walk again. After 130 spinal rehabilitation sessions, Shazier regained the ability to walk again two years after the injury. He would then retire from football in 2020.