In the unsettling aftermath of Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” play-by-play voice Joe Buck informed viewers four separate times that the Bills and Bengals would have a five-minute window to warm up before resuming play.
It seemed an ill-considered idea considering that Hamlin, who collapsed after making a tackle, had left the field in an ambulance after requiring CPR. Players on both teams were obviously shaken, some in tears.
In a conference call late Monday night that carried into Tuesday morning, NFL executive Troy Vincent denied that the league had given the directive for players to warm up for five minutes for a restart.
But in a statement Tuesday, ESPN stood behind Buck and the information that he repeatedly shared.
“There was constant communication in real time between ESPN and league and game officials,” said the statement, provided by ESPN public relations. “As a result of that, we reported what we were told in the moment and immediately updated fans as new information was learned. This was an unprecedented, rapidly-evolving circumstance. All night long, we refrained from speculation.”
According to two sources with knowledge of the situation, ESPN had a direct line to the NFL throughout the night, which is standard protocol, and in that time the league never asked the network or Buck to walk back the comments about a five-minute window.
During the late-night conference call, Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, said the league made no such declaration of a warm-up window.
“I’m not sure where that came from,” said Vincent, a former player. “Frankly, there was no time period for the players to get warmed up. Frankly, the only thing that we asked was that [referee] Shawn [Smith] communicate with both head coaches to make sure they had the proper time inside the locker room to discuss what they felt was best.
“So I’m not sure where that came from. Five-minute warm-up never crossed my mind, personally. And I was the one … that was communicating with [commissioner Roger Goodell]. We never, frankly, it never crossed our mind to talk about warming up to resume play. That’s ridiculous. That’s insensitive. And that’s not a place that we should ever be in.”
In the moments after the ambulance departed for the hospital, it certainly looked like the players had been given notice that the game would resume. At one point as Buck mentioned the warm-up window, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow began throwing passes, while Bills receiver Stefon Diggs gave an emotional speech to his teammates on the sideline.
Players stopped warming up and eventually headed for the locker room only after Bengals coach Zac Taylor walked to the opposite sideline to confer with Bills coach Sean McDermott and officials.
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