The family of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin is "frustrated" and "mad" at accusatory social media comments levied toward Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins from certain users following their son's medical emergency Monday night at Paycor Stadium. The sentiments of the family were shared by Jordon Rooney, Hamlin's marketing representative and personal friend, in comments to Spectrum News 1 BUF.
Higgins was involved in the play that cut Monday night's game between the Bills and Bengals short, as he collided with Hamlin while fighting for extra yards after making a catch that went for 13 yards. Hamlin went into cardiac arrest and collapsed immediately after the play, and the game was not resumed after on-site medical staff worked to restore Hamlin's heartbeat before transporting him to the nearby University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
Higgins, who was seen visibly distraught in the aftermath of Monday night's events, was unfortunately not spared from criticism for his role in the play, which ranged from hateful online comments to being blamed for the situation outright by former NFL linebacker Bart Scott.
“If you think you’re support Damar by bashing Tee (@teehiggins5), you’re not supporting Damar” — @jordonr— Rachel Hopmayer (@rachelhopmayer) January 4, 2023
Just caught up with #Bills Damar Hamlin’s close friend and marketing rep outside UCMC. He also clarified that it was a misunderstanding that Hamlin was resuscitated twice. pic.twitter.com/lrvdvVxbSp
"When I talked to the parents this morning and kind of told them what's been going on (with Higgins), they're mad. They're frustrated. This isn't supporting Damar," Rooney said. "If you think you're supporting Damar by bashing Tee, you're not supporting Damar, because they don't agree with anything that's being said. It was a freak football accident that could have happened with anyone at any time."
Rooney shared that Higgins, one of the stars of the Bengals' receiving corps, has reached out to the Hamlin family and gone "above and beyond" in expressing that he cares. "The family feels bad that Tee would have any guilt towards this situation," Rooney said.
Rooney's comments to the media come after Hamlin's father, through Coley Harvey of ESPN, called for any and all criticism of Higgins for his role in the play to stop. Higgins himself has not spoken publicly since the incident, but he offered his prayers and thoughts in a Twitter post on Monday night.
Unfortunately, the situation faced by Higgins is a familiar one for those who are involved in sports tragedies. In 2001, NASCAR driver Sterling Marlin received hate mail and death threats after he was involved in the initial contact that triggered the crash that killed Dale Earnhardt on the final lap of the Daytona 500. Marlin was quickly absolved of any blame for the crash by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who publicly stated that any vitriol directed towards Marlin was "ridiculous and will not be tolerated."
Higgins has also received public support from former Vanderbilt running back Brad Gaines, who was involved in a 1989 play that left Ole Miss defensive back Chucky Mullins paralyzed from the neck down. Mullins, who died of a pulmonary embolism two years later, told Gaines that the injury was not his fault as the two formed a bond that has continued long after his passing.
As of Wednesday, Damar Hamlin remains in critical condition at UC Medical Center's ICU with "signs of improvement" noted both yesterday and overnight. Rooney also clarified that Hamlin only needed to be resuscitated once, walking back a Tuesday claim by Hamlin's uncle that he had needed to be resuscitated a second time at the hospital.