PHOENIX -- Inspired by the heroes and policies that saved Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin's life, the NFL is launching a nationwide campaign in partnership with other major pro sports leagues and leading public health, nonprofit and patient advocacy organizations to push every state to adopt policies to prevent fatal outcomes from sudden cardiac arrest among high school students.
The NBA, the NHL, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and the NCAA also signed on to The Smart Heart Sports Coalition, which sent letters Monday to governors in 43 states that haven't previously implemented all three best practice policies: emergency action plans, accessible automated external defibrillators (AEDs) at or near all venues, and CPR and AED education for coaches.
"We have a history of leaning in when we're faced with challenges as an organization," Anna Isaacson, the NFL's Senior Vice President of Social Responsibility, told NFL.com. "And when something like what happened to Damar happened on our field, we said, what more can we do? So that not only Damar's life was saved, but how can we save additional lives? And how do we best use the NFL and our assets and our reach to do that?"
Other founding members of the newly formed coalition are the American Heart Association, American Red Cross, Korey Stringer Institute, National Athletic Trainers Association and Damar Hamlin's Chasing M's Foundation, which has received more than $9 million in donations to what began as a community toy drive following Hamlin's frightening collapse after suffering a cardiac arrest during the Bills' nationally televised game in on Jan. 2 at Cincinnati and his remarkable recovery since.
"I'm honored to support the NFL's work to encourage all 50 states to adopt policies to protect youth," Hamlin said in a statement. "This work pushes forward the idea that every high school should have an athletic emergency plan, coaches should be CPR and AED trained and athletic fields should have clearly marked AEDs within a moment's reach. These efforts can help save the lives of student athletes impacted by sudden cardiac arrest."
According to the Mayo Clinic, sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death for young athletes, and sports-related cardiac arrest accounted for nearly 40% of sudden cardiac arrests among people age 18 and under, according to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation. If an AED is applied within 3 minutes, as it was in the case of Hamlin, the chances for survival increase by 90%, according to the Korey Stringer Institute. Yet 12 states have none of the three policies the coalition is advocating for; seven states have all three, while most states have one or two.
The NFL Foundation has committed more than $1 million in grants to support nationwide CPR education and AED access, including $20,000 for each NFL club to spend on such efforts in their communities. The NFL Foundation also plans to work with the American Heart Association and American Red Cross to raise awareness and prevent fatalities from sudden cardiac arrest.
"We had done something similar to this years ago with concussion laws as we developed and evolved our protocols to better protect our players," said Jeff Miller, the NFL's Executive Vice President of Communications, Public Affairs and Health Policy. "It didn't take long to appreciate that other levels of our sports didn't have the same sort of resources to address sudden cardiac arrest that we did."
Monday's letter from the coalition to the 43 governors says "acting now is vital" to prevent deaths among student athletes, specifically calling for three best practices to be enacted:
- Provide that high schools have an athletic emergency action plan (EAP) that is venue specific, widely distributed, posted, rehearsed, and updated annually.
- Ensure clearly marked AEDs are at each athletic venue or within 1 to 3 minutes of each venue where high school practices or competitions are held.
- Ensure coaches receive CPR and AED training and education.
The coalition also plans to continue the campaign to encourage adoption of those policies within the next three years.
"If we are successful in getting these laws or regulations passed and there are more CPR-trained people and more AEDs available in high schools, it's not just going to help the athletes," Miller said. "There's a lot of people that come through the school community every day, and those people will also be the beneficiaries of this. These numbers are substantial, and it does not take a great deal of expertise – it really just needs a resource and awareness to be able to help somebody out."
The Bills have said Hamlin continues to make great progress and left open the door for his potential return to the field. Isaacson said Hamlin's camp was on board immediately with the idea of being part of this initiative.
"It was clear that they were always wanting to make a big impact in this space and really use this moment and what happened to him to bring awareness to a really significant issue," Isaacson said. "From the moment it was appropriate to do so, they were ready to lean in."