Damar Hamlin sits down for an interview

Damar Hamlin, NFL defensive back for the Buffalo Bills, sat down with ABC News last week for his first interview since his on-field collapse on Jan. 3. During the opening quarter of a game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17, Hamlin took a solid blow to the chest while bringing down a wide receiver, causing a sudden and unanticipated heart failure. Millions of football fans watched as Hamlin abruptly fainted on national television, with fellow players on the turf looking on, shocked and distressed.

Six weeks later, Hamlin was ready to talk, but still hesitant to dive into particular subjects. He found himself unable to acutely describe experiences and feelings from the moments surrounding the collapse, or to express just what conversations with his doctors have looked like since. When asked to share what doctors said had happened to him, Hamlin gave a long pause before saying that topic was one he wanted to “stay away from.”

Hamlin was instead mainly focused on sharing gratitude. He thanked the paramedics and team doctors, who had quickly administered CPR to restore his heartbeat, and for the support of his teammates. He also gave his appreciation for the family who stuck by his side during his time in the Cincinnati ICU.

When Hamlin was brought into the UC medical center, doctors considered commotio cordis a possible cause of his collapse, a rare phenomenon in which a direct blow to the chest at a precise moment in the heart pattern can trigger cardiac arrest. Sudden death by commotio cordis has been reported in sports such as baseball and lacrosse, where a ball struck at the heart can cause it to stop pumping, but is exceedingly uncommon in contact sports like football. It most likely that the Bengal running downfield, lowering his right shoulder, struck Hamlin in the chest at the exact wrong time, producing the sudden and violent reaction that could have killed him within minutes if not attended to.

How does Hamlin feel about his current condition? Physically, he is glad to be like his old self again, grateful to have pulled through the ordeal “almost without a scratch.” His mental and emotional recovery is still in the process, however. Hamlin had a lot of trouble reliving the moment he collapsed. Hamlin says he’s still working through the “emotions and trauma” from the event, watching replays of the moment he fainted in-game in an attempt to understand what happened. It remains a traumatic event for himself his team, and those present and watching, and will take time to heal.

However, some controversy has arose around the event, and the safety of the NFL. While the NFL is no stranger to concerns around the health of its athletes, watching someone essentially lose their heartbeat live on air has put a lot of new questions into the air. While it's definitely true that Hamlin’s interview silence around these weighty topics is a natural reaction to such a disturbing event being resurfaced, some critics have characterized his pensive silence as refusal, even taking it as evidence of bribery from the League to stay quiet. Suspicion is spreading online, some linking Hamlin’s alleged denial with vaccine disinformation and other skeptical notions.

Online conspiracy continued to abound after last Sunday’s Super Bowl, where Hamlin made an appearance on the field among the EMTs who responded to his emergency. A fringe of Twitter has claimed Hamlin was replaced by a body double, a theory that spread shortly after his post-recovery reappearance on social media and was sustained after last week. Numerous news sources have debunked the claim.

​​Following his return to Buffalo, Hamlin felt impelled to give back what he could to the world after his near-fatal incident. He established an initiative with the American Heart Association last month to impact and educate, promoting CPR training and cardiac health awareness. His work won him this year’s Alan Page award for community service, the NFL Players Association’s highest honor

The medical director of the NFLPA has claimed Hamlin is “guaranteed” to make a return to the football field. A “long road” remains in front of him, said Hamlin, but that coming back to play is “always the goal.” Doctors described his recovery as nothing short of miraculous. Waking up from his hospital bed, the first thing Hamlin wanted to know was whether the Bills had won the game, his self-attributed “competitive nature” kicking in. The response he heard? Play might not have carried on, but Hamlin had assuredly “won the game of life.”