On His Way to the N.F.L., Damar Hamlin Was Determined to Give Back

When Damar Hamlin was a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, he came up with an idea to give back to his hometown, McKees Rocks, Pa., near Pittsburgh. As soon as Hamlin finished his college playing career, in December 2020, he set up a fund-raiser for a community toy drive.

“As I embark on my journey to the NFL, I will never forget where I come from and I am committed to using my platform to positively impact the community that raised me,” Hamlin wrote at the time. He explained that toys would be distributed at a day care center run by his mother, Nina.

“Thank you so much for supporting me on and off the field,” Hamlin wrote, months before the Buffalo Bills would select him in the sixth round of the 2021 N.F.L. draft.

On Monday night, that GoFundMe page, which is still active, became a way for thousands of people across the country to show their support for Hamlin after he collapsed on the field during a nationally televised game between the Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals. In the game’s first quarter, Hamlin appeared to sustain a blow to the chest and head as he tackled Cincinnati receiver Tee Higgins. Hamlin stood up after the hit but then fell backward to the turf and his body went limp.

A statement from the N.F.L. announcing the postponement of the game said that Hamlin was in critical condition after being transported to a Cincinnati hospital.

Hamlin, 24, stepped into a starting safety role for the Bills in September after Micah Hyde suffered a neck injury that ended his season. Before making it to the N.F.L., Hamlin was a team captain and centerpiece of Pitt’s defense, leading the team in tackles and pass breakups during his senior season in 2020.

Hamlin attended Pittsburgh’s Central Catholic High School, where he was recognized as one of the best players in the state and helped lead his team to a championship in the competitive Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League. He chose to attend Pitt in part to stay close to his family, including a younger brother who was a toddler at the time. “I wanted him to just grow up with a role model in his life and to give him someone to be able to model himself after,” Hamlin told reporters.

Hamlin’s first job, at age 12, was working for his family’s cleaning business.

His mother, Nina, was reportedly at the game in Cincinnati and traveled with her son to the hospital. Within a few hours of Hamlin’s being transported to the hospital, more than 30,000 people had contributed nearly $1 million to the GoFundMe page he set up two years ago.

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