Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin remains unconscious, and intubated, after collapsing...

Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin remains unconscious, and intubated, after collapsing during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Credit: AP/Greg M. Cooper

After a holiday season awash in college and professional football, no one could be blamed for wanting to skip Monday night’s NFL tilt.

That didn't happen in the Filler household, though, because the matchup between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals was potentially memorable. And because my wife’s and daughter’s Southern heritage bred in them a love of football.

And because I had money on the game.

But after a devastating injury stopped the contest, we were left wondering how we can continue to enjoy such a dangerous sport.

When Buffalo Bills defender Damar Hamlin tackled Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins we were watching raptly, hunched over trays of “lucky” leftovers from Sunday’s traditional New Year's Day meal: black-eyed peas, collard greens, pork tenderloin and cornbread.

Hamlin, 24, suffered cardiac arrest and collapsed after tackling Higgins. He remains in critical condition. Experts say that the cause was the impact of the tackle to Hamlin’s chest at an unlucky moment in his cardiac rhythm.

And while none of us had seen a gridiron emergency quite like Hamlin’s, we’d all seen on-field injuries that made us swear off the game before. We’d also seen the studies that show hundreds of football players have been left with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a devastating neurological disorder caused by repeated brain trauma.

We understand fan support is an inducement to play, that our uneasy love of the dangerous game helps induce others to pursue it. But our plans to stop watching never lasted long.

Hamlin remains unconscious, and intubated. It is not clear to what extent he’ll recover. The game was suspended with the Bengals leading 7-3, and it’s not certain when the contest, which has significant playoff implications, will be completed.

But it's nearly certain we'll be watching.

Football is far from the most dangerous way to earn a living, and studies have shown that professional football players, on average, outlive the general populace, although clearly some sustain a lot of damage. None of the most dangerous occupations get headlines, pay a lot or earn much concern from the general public: Logging leads the list in the United States, followed by aircraft pilots, derrick workers and roofers. The only player to die on an NFL field was Chuck Hughes in 1971, and the cause was a congenital heart defect, not a hard hit.

And even in scholastic sports, where the youth of players and the liability of school districts is worrisome, football is not the most immediately dangerous sport. Cheerleading causes the most catastrophic injuries per capita, followed by soccer, then football.

But fans feel responsible when it's pro football hurting players, because without our fandom there wouldn't be pro football.

And when we hear that a beloved player like Junior Seau has killed himself, and football’s impact on his brain was the reason, we quail. When we hear that Frank Gifford and Kenny Stabler and Mike Webster and Jim McMahon’s brains were destroyed by CTE, we shudder.

And when we see the impact of a crushing hit in real time, we fear for the player’s health and worry about our own culpability, even as we can’t quit loving the game.

And maybe that’s just exactly right. Football played by consenting adults isn’t so dangerous that we can’t enjoy it, and fans shouldn't be so callous that they can remain unmoved when a player lies motionless on the field.

Columnist Lane Filler's opinions are his own.

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