‘God Is Real’: Damar Hamlin, Jonathan Roumie, Tony Dungy and the Game of Life

‘God Is Real’: Damar Hamlin, Jonathan Roumie, Tony Dungy and the Game of Life January 22, 2023

Hands make a heart sign in an NFL stadium
Photo: Shutterstock

There’s how humans define winning and losing, and then there’s what God considers to be winning and losing. They’re often not the same. This is vital to understanding what happened to Damar Hamlin, the Buffalo Bills and the media world.

What Can Happen in 20 Days

Twenty days ago, on Jan. 2, the 24-year-old Bills safety suffered on on-field cardiac arrest during an NFL Monday Night Football game in Cincinnati against the Bengals. The sports world held its breath as Hamlin’s heart was shocked back to rhythm on the field, and he was rushed to a local hospital.

What followed was a tsunami of public prayer (which I chronicled here) that broke over the NFL and the wider world, as people of faith felt emboldened to speak aloud the prayers in their hearts.

And there were so many of them, and so many prominent names, that a media world used to treating prayer with condescension at best, and scorn at worst, could do nothing but let it happen.

“God is Real.”

Following a remarkable victory by the Bills the week after Hamlin’s collapse, Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen said in a press conference that he told his teammates that, “God is real.”

Then, at about the 8:10 mark in this appearance on the podcast by Good Morning Football co-host Kyle Brandt, Allen elaborates on that, and the remarkable spiritual awakening this formerly lukewarm Methodist experienced.

Winning at the Game That Really Matters

When Hamlin awoke in the hospital, the first thing he wanted to know was if the Bills won (neither team won, as the game was canceled). Hamlin’s doctors told him, “You won the game of life.”

Indeed, he did. Hamlin is a man of faith with a generous spirit, and his plight seemed to bring out the best even in the most cynical viewers.

The power of modern medicine and the power of prayer came together for an outcome that seemed, to say the least, unlikely in the first few hours and days.

But today, Hamlin, wearing his team’s colors of red and blue, was whisked into a luxury suite at the Bills’ home field to watch the Bills and Bengals meet again in an AFC divisional playoff game. Visible through a window in the snowy stadium, he made his trademark heart sign with his hands.

Hamlin’s still got a long road of recovery ahead of him, but few could have dreamed that he would be there today — to watch the Bills lose to the Bengals, 27-10.

Faith on the Field

The world now knows just how deeply faith, primarily Christianity, is embedded in the football world. One might think that players pray to win. No doubt some do, but by all reports, most prayers are a plea to perform well and get out uninjured.

Now, this is no mystery to the NFL. Teams have chaplains and offer religious services to players. Players hold prayer meetings, Bible studies, etc. And, as I said in the previous post, hearing football players and coaches talk about God is as common as hearing politicians talk about themselves.

For example, this is the announcement by Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud that he would leaving the Buckeyes to participate this year in the NFL draft.

This public religiosity surprises, and bothers, many in the mainstream media. But, one supposes they’ll just have to learn to deal with it, because I have a suspicion that it could be tricky to put the prayer genie back in the bottle.

TV Jesus Tells the March for Life That “God Is Real”

Then, on Jan. 20, came the 2023 edition of the March for Life, the first held since the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision last summer, returning abortion law to the states.

The keynote speaker was Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus in the hit Gospels-based TV series The Chosen. He’s a Catholic who turned to prayer in his own moments of doubt. He echoed Allen, saying:

God is real. How do I know this? I’m not him. I’m not the real Jesus, let’s just get that out of the way. TV Jesus [points to self]. Real Jesus [points up], TV Jesus. Jim Caviezel, movie Jesus, TV Jesus.

God is real, and He is completely in love with each and every one of you.

Roumie spoke about the fight for the right to life of the unborn, but he also spoke about an anti-faith bias often seen in the modern media and entertainment world — which is especially true of mainstream news.

I have observed God subtly but radically being removed from popular culture over the last couple of decades, replaced with some of the most corruptive images and ideologies for young hearts and minds.

And any of us who profess any faith are branded as fundamental or condemned for their beliefs with the assertions of the religiosity of a Pharisee. This is completely contrary to what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ and follow His teachings. …

They say we live in a post-Christian society. I reject that. You can reject that. Change the culture by impacting the culture. Embrace that which is bigger than you. He who gave you abundant life and He who has called you by name, do not be afraid.

He urged the path of prayer, especially the Rosary.

Here’s the whole thing:

NFL Player and Coach Tony Dungy Talks About the Real Miracle

Another speaker was Tony Dungy, a former NFL safety who spent 13 years as a head coach, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts (including a 2007 Colts Super Bowl victory). An Evangelical Christian, he was making his first appearance at the March for Life.

True to the football guy he is, Dungy went straight to Hamlin’s story.

A young man named Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills made a routine tackle, and his heart stopped beating right on the field. It could have been tragic, but something miraculous happened. The team medical staff rushed out. They got Damar’s heart started again.

But you know what? That wasn’t the miracle. The real miracle was the reaction of everyone to that. The announcers on the broadcast, what did they say? All we can do is pray. And all across the country, people started praying. Lauren and I, we were having dinner with friends of ours, and we stopped what we were doing and we prayed right there. The Bills players prayed right on the spot.

Now, usually when that happens, the cameras cut away from that because we don’t like to see that. …

The next week at every stadium in the NFL, teams got together and prayed, and it was amazing. Well, those prayers were answered. Damar is recovering now. He’s home, he’s been released from the hospital

But what’s the lesson in that? An unbelievable thing happened that night. A professional football game with millions of dollars of ticket money and advertising money on the line, that game was canceled. Why? Because a life was at stake and people wanted to see that life saved.

Even people who aren’t necessarily religious got together and called on God. Well, that should be encouraging to us because that’s exactly why we’re here today.

Because every day in this country, innocent lives are at stake, and the only difference is they don’t belong to a famous athlete and they’re not seen on national TV. But those lives are still important to God. And in God’s eyes.

Here’s the whole thing:

There’s Winning, and Then There’s Winning

So, the Bills’ fairytale story doesn’t lead all the way to the Super Bowl, and that’s OK. The team, its dedicated fans and Damar Hamlin won the biggest game of all — the game of life.

When the winning Super Bowl team hoists the Lombardi Trophy (named for devout Catholic coach Vince Lombardi), no doubt God will get thanked, either publicly, privately or both. But just the fact that the players and coaches are praying is the victory that matters most to God.

Image: Shutterstock

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About Kate O'Hare
Based in Los Angeles, Kate O'Hare is a veteran entertainment journalist, Social Media Content Manager for Family Theater Productions and a rookie screenwriter. You can read more about the author here.
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