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ESPN says ‘warm up’ report came from NFL officials

Executives with the National Football League said they weren't sure how the report originated following Damar Hamlin's injury on Monday.

Executives with the National Football League said they weren't sure how the report originated following Damar Hamlin's injury on Monday.

A still frame from an ESPN “SportsCenter” broadcast on January 2, 2023 following a critical injury sustained by Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin. (Still frame via ESPN/ABC broadcast, Graphic by The Desk)

The National Football League and ESPN have issued conflicting statements about the origins of a report that suggested football players with the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals were expected to warm up and resume play of a Monday evening game after a player on one of the teams suffered a serious and traumatic medical episode.

During the first quarter of the game, Bills safety Damar Hamlin unexpected collapsed on the field following a play that ended with a tackle.

Hamlin was administered CPR on the field for around 10 minutes before he was taken to a local trauma hospital. He was admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit and was listed in critical condition, a status that was unchanged Tuesday morning.

The game was broadcast as part of ESPN’s weekly “Monday Night Football” telecast. The playoff implications of the game resulted in ESPN’s broadcast being carried across the country by ABC.

After Hamlin was transported off the field, ESPN commentator Joe Buck said players were given about five minutes to warm up in anticipation of the game resuming, a statement that was repeated several times over the course of about 15 minutes.

“They have been given five minutes to quote-unquote get ready to get back playing,” Buck said during the Monday Night Football telecast. “That’s the word we get from the league, and the word we get from down on the field.”

Ultimately, NFL officials decided to postpone the game indefinitely. Most players for the Bills team flew back to Buffalo overnight.

During a hastily-arranged conference call with reporters early Tuesday morning (late Monday evening PT), the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said the league’s primary concern was the health and wellness of Hamlin as well as the players on both teams who witnessed the traumatic event.

When asked by a reporter to address Buck’s comments about the players being given a five-minute period to warm up in anticipation of the game restarting, Vincent said he was not sure where that information originated.

“Frankly, there was no time period for the players to get warmed up,” Vincent declared. He later added: “It never crossed our mind that, to talk about warming up, to resume play. That’s, that’s ridiculous. That’s insensitive. And that’s not a place that, that we should ever be.”

A spokesperson with ESPN called the situation fluid, and said information that was broadcast by Buck and others at the channel and ABC Sports came from the NFL itself.

“There was constant communication in real-time between ESPN and league and game officials,” the ESPN spokesperson said. “As a result, we reported what we were told in the moment, and immediately updated fans as new information was learned.”

Related: Read the transcript from the NFL’s call with reporters

ESPN called Hamlin’s medical episode “an unprecedented, rapidly-evolving circumstance.”

“All night long, we refrained from speculation,” the ESPN spokesperson affirmed.

On Twitter and Facebook, fans criticized NFL officials early on after hearing Buck’s report that the game was possibly set to resume with a warm-up period. The statement made by ESPN on Tuesday added an element of confusion over whether NFL officials were being truthful in the claim that players were not told to prepare for a reactivation of the game.

“There is no way in hell [Bengals quarterback] Joe Burrow is tossing a football in that moment if he hasn’t been told they’re playing again soon,” fan John Davis wrote on Twitter.

Commentators on ESPN were less-critical about the NFL’s handling of the situation Monday evening, saying everyone was caught off guard and did their best to handle a rapidly-evolving situation.

“I think understandably people got frustrated the the game wasn’t immediately called, but this is something we haven’t seen before,” ESPN’s Harry Lyles, Jr. said during a broadcast of “NFL Live” on Tuesday. “The most-important thing is that they didn’t finish the game last night. The way we got there perhaps wasn’t the most-efficient way, but we did get there.”

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).