Sean McDermott deserves praise for emphasizing Bills’ mental health

When asked what Damar Hamlin is like, Josh Allen said the Buffalo Bills safety is “the happiest guy.” And Hamlin has made NFL fans very happy with word that he’s communicating with doctors in writing and shaking hands with his family.

Allen answered questions Thursday afternoon after Hamlin was waking up from days of sedation following a cardiac arrest during Monday night’s Bills-Bengals game.

It is a great joy to hear the news that Hamlin is improving.

We’ve all learned a lot about Hamlin the past few days. By any measure, he seems like an exceptional person, who overcame great adversity in a tough neighborhood growing up in Pennsylvania. And even as a young 24-year-old, the young man already had the maturity to emphasize what family means to him.

“I’m very important to my family unit. My mom, my dad, my little brother, that’s pretty much my whole world… Everything else that happens in my life revolves around them,” Hamlin told Bills team reporter Maddy. Glab in December. “I don’t really do too much without my mom and dad’s opinion, whether I take it or not. But I just want to hear it. That’s how I was raised.”

That’s a good head on his shoulders.

I’ll speak for myself and say that watching Hamlin collapse in the field left me baffled. I had trouble sleeping on Monday night and spent the week thinking about him, and waiting restlessly for any news of his condition. I know many in the NFL community have felt the same way. So I can only imagine how his peers feel. They know Hamlin. They are in a dressing room with him every day. He is surely a close friend, and in some cases, like a brother to these Bills players.

And that’s why I’ve found Bills coach Sean McDermott’s demeanor and decision-making so impressive throughout this process.

It started immediately after Hamlin was revived on the field at Paycor Stadium on Monday before an ambulance took him to the hospital.

McDermott immediately told Bengals coach Zac Taylor, “I need to be in the hospital. I shouldn’t be coaching this game.”

McDermott knew his players had to get off the field. The game could not continue. And McDermott knew he had to get to that hospital to be with Hamlin.

And these are exactly the right priorities.

While we don’t have much information in the hours and days that followed, we do know that McDermott and the Bills made sure to provide mental health professionals for any players who needed help.

And again, those are exactly the right priorities.

Whether he was taking McDermott’s lead or acting on instinct, Allen also made sure to look out for his teammates. The QB opened his home and had teammates for prayer and decompression.

And even now, McDermott made sure to stress that he needs to know when to take a break. I needed to know when to stop. And when to ask for help.

It’s easy to get bogged down in your work. It is easy to avoid, postpone and divert.

But that’s not what McDermott has done. He has taken the lead and made sure his players stop to acknowledge and process the immensely difficult situation. And again, Allen has done something similar.

“A lot of tears of joy,” Allen said.

But it’s not over. Hamlin has a long way to go. Hopefully, he continues to improve and make a full recovery.

Football may seem more digestible at this exact moment, because of the good news. But it certainly won’t be easy for the Bills to go about their day-to-day routines with Hamlin’s recovery in the back of their minds.

“There are some things we still need to talk about and work through,” Allen said Thursday.

In the next few days, the Bills will have to play a home game in front of what is sure to be a tremendously emotional crowd.

“It’s going to be very emotional in the stadium and I think it’s going to be unlike anything we’ve seen before,” McDermott said. “And I think we’re going to have to balance that.”

But you have a feeling the accounts will be fine on Sunday, and in the coming weeks and months. And that’s because McDermott cares about his players. He’s doing what he can to take care of himself, while also making sure the players take care of themselves.

And this is a great example of leadership.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as an AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.

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