NFL-Bills safety Hamlin overcame childhood adversity to reach NFL

Damar Hamlin was living the NFL dream this season with the Super Bowl-contending Buffalo Bills until suffering cardiac arrest on the field during a nationally televised prime time game on Monday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Hamlin, 24, had his heartbeat restored on the field and remains in critical condition on Tuesday as the sporting world rallies around him while others quickly learn more about his journey to the NFL, charitable efforts and love of his hometown.

Raised in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, Hamlin endured plenty of adversity on his road to the NFL, including his father going to prison for three-and-a half of his formative years and losing three close friends to gun violence.

Hamlin went to Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh where he became a top-rated cornerback who earned scholarships from schools across the United States but elected to stay close to home and play for the University of Pittsburgh.

At the time, Hamlin said his decision had to do with wanting to give his city bragging rights and also so he could be around to serve as a role model for his younger brother.

“I wanted to give him that image growing up, that he can look back on and be able to model himself after,” Hamlin once said. “That’s something I never had. I had a bunch of examples of what not to do. I want to give him a different example.”

After dealing with injuries early in his collegiate career, Hamlin led Pitt in tackles in the 2018 and 2020 seasons, the latter during which he was voted a captain by his team mates.

Hamlin was also invited to play in the Senior Bowl all-star game that showcases the best NFL Draft prospects.

“Damar Hamlin is the best of us,” the University of Pittsburgh football team wrote on their Twitter account.

According to a prospects page on the NFL website that was prepared ahead of the 2021 Draft, Hamlin was considered at the time to be someone who “plays with good instincts and awareness” and has a feel for angles to make good contact at the catch.

The Bills selected Hamlin in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft with the 212th pick and signed the safety to a four-year, $3.6 million contract that included a $160,476 signing bonus and average salary of $910,119.

“There were times where I could have steered left or steered right but my parents were always there to straighten me out and get me back on the track,” Hamlin said in August 2021.

“I’ve got to give out a credit to them, it really had nothing to do with me. The only thing I had to do was just listen and that’s the type of kid I was.”

Hamlin spent his rookie NFL season limited to playing special teams roles but was thrust into Buffalo’s starting lineup last September after an injury to a team mate.

Hamlin has since played a key role in the Bills defense and his 91 tackles in 15 games this season are tied for second most on the team.

In late 2020, Hamlin created the Chasing M’s Foundation and launched a fundraiser with a stated goal of $2,500 to buy toys for children ahead of that year’s holiday season.

The page, which has remained active, received nearly $3,000 during a two-year span through December 2022 but skyrocketed to over $4.5 million following his cardiac arrest as fans used it as a way to show their support.

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