Damar Hamlin was easy to spot on the sidelines of the Buffalo Bills practice field Tuesday morning.
Most defenders on the “blue” side wear helmets for optional team practice. Hamlin’s head was instead covered in a pink beanie emblazoned with the Bills logo, a sign that safety has not taken care of his teammates in summer training.
It was the second on-court practice for Hamlin, 25, since he received life-saving treatment after suffering a heart attack on the field during an NFL game on Jan. 2. The three specialists unanimously allowed Hamlin to return to football in April and he participated with his teammates. in practice last week during the team’s first practice of the off-season.
As volunteer training resumed Tuesday, Hamlin’s pink head gear was the only sign that regular drilling and stretching marked a milestone nearly unthinkable just months earlier.
Hamlin walked with his teammates up and down the pitch, which is next to Bills’ Highmark Stadium, as the players did soccer practice. The third-year defender participated in several drills and at one point ran a route on offense, catching a jump pass in the end zone from backup quarterback Matt Barkley.
At one point during sunny midday training, which lasted nearly two hours, Hamlin picked up the injury while chatting with fellow defensive backs Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde.
“I teased him a little. I told him he looked swollen,” Hyde said after practice. “He told me he had to lift a little weight yesterday.”
Hamlin’s near normal appearance at soccer practice was a far cry from the tense nine minutes last January in which coaches and doctors performed CPR on him while television cameras captured the sad faces of the Bills players, some of whom wept and prayed. Hamlin was revived and taken off the field in an ambulance.
After being released from the hospital later that month, Hamlin made a number of notable public appearances. He helped honor the Bills’ training and the medical staff and hospital employees who attended to him during a ceremony before the game at the Super Bowl in February. Days before the championship game, Hamlin gave an emotional speech after accepting the Community Award during the NFL Honors ceremony.
In March, Hamlin met with President Biden in the Oval Office and spoke before Congress in support of a bill that, if passed, would fund access to automated external defibrillators in schools.
Last week, the Bills posted a video from several players and staff members who received CPR training and the use of a defibrillator ahead of Hamlin’s return to the pitch.
Team contact practice is scheduled to start next week, when the Bills players are scheduled for three drills. Although General Manager Brandon Beane said Hamlin had been “fully cleared” for football activity, Hyde acknowledged that players may experience an initial reluctance to return to the violent crashing inherent in the game.
Hyde injured his neck last season during Week 2, and underwent spinal surgery to remove a herniated disc and fuse the two vertebrae together. He returned to training on January 12, just days after Hamlin’s near-death experience.
Hyde said whenever a player comes back from injury, “There’s a bit of a mental barrier to getting out and playing fast. It is a violent game.”
He overcomes it by mentally preparing himself to come back, telling himself, “I’m ready to go, I’m ready, I’m ready to hit, I’m ready to tackle, I’m ready to do whatever.”