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MLK Day Reflection: We Got it Right with Damar Hamlin, but Failed George Floyd

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” 

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By Tom Campisi

Damar Hamlin’s heart stopped when he tackled Tee Higgins on Monday Night Football two weeks ago. And the world seemed to stop along with it.

Word quickly spread well beyond the football community. Suddenly, millions of people were interceding for the young man, who needed CPR on the field and was driven away in an ambulance. The game was suspended and later cancelled. Thankfully, and miraculously, Hamlin was recently released from the hospital.

If you are a Christian, and particularly a praying one, there was certainly reason to be proud about how people of faith stepped up and stood in the gap for Hamlin. Prayer was trending on social media. ESPN Commentator Dan Orlovsky bowed his head on the air and lifted up Hamlin to the Lord as co-anchors Laura Rutledge and Marcus Spears nodded, “Amen.” Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen testified that “God is real,” and admitted that the experience led to a “spiritual awakening.” Several media critics even noted how praying and rooting for Hamlin brought the country together with a much needed, yet rare, sense of unity.

However, as I thought about how we, the Church, responded so well in Damar Hamlin’s time of need, I was also saddened that it was not the same team effort when it came to George Floyd in 2020. Some believers did not show the same mercy, prayer, and unconditional love when that tragedy stunned the nation.

A few days after Floyd was heinously murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin (and the world watched the cell phone video in horror), I made a Facebook post expressing my disappointment with how then-President Donald Trump did not show leadership nor compassion with his choice of words (“looting and shooting” and other gems) during a national crisis. Trump fumbled when the country needed him to bring unity. Yet, some Christians continued to defend him.

When Damar Hamlin’s life hung in the balance, the NFL, rightfully, put the game and everything else on hold. Nothing else mattered. When George Floyd’s life was taken away from him, we did not have the same singleness of mind and heart. Some let politics enter the conversation when we should have been praying and consoling, at least until the smoke cleared. Timing is everything. When Hamlin was in a Cincinnati hospital, Bills and Bengals fans, who were rooting vehemently against one another hours before, united for a prayer vigil. Post George Floyd, when our Black brothers and sisters needed intensive care, some Christians coldly shared videos from the likes of Candace Owens and other political commentators, who sought to discredit Mr. Floyd and mute the call for justice.

At a time when we needed courage to elevate the Word of God above cable news and use keen spiritual discernment to know the difference between “Black Lives Matter the organization” and “Black Lives Matter the phrase,” some simply did not have enough of either.

Has the tide turned? Hopefully, we have learned our lesson from the aftermath of George Floyd and the mistakes that were made. Maybe next time we can act more like Jesus and remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” 

With Damar Hamlin, the Body of Christ united in prayer and it was all-hands-on-deck. A watching world took notice and had hope. Even a lukewarm quarterback (along with probably thousands, and possibly millions) sensed the fire of revival. The year 2023 has just begun, but that may have been our finest moment. Let us continue to be faithful to what the Lord requires: to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

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