Bears coach Matt Eberflus along with several Bears players voiced their support Wednesday for Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who suffered a cardiac arrest following a hit in Buffalo's Monday night game against the Bengals.
According to a Bills statement released Wednesday afternoon, Hamlin remains in the intensive care unit at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center but has shown signs of improvement. Eberflus opened his Wednesday press conference with a statement regarding Hamlin.
"First of all our prayers to Damar Hamlin and the Bills," Eberflus said. "Certainly thinking about him and his family and his teammates, his coaches. Reached out to Sean McDermott and told him that in our team meeting today we're gonna have Teddy, our pastor, come in and say a prayer, a focused prayer on Damar and his health. We did that today at the team meeting."
Eberflus and the Bears staff also discussed the organization's mental health resources with the team, including team clinician Carla Suber.
"[It] hits home to the player, to the individual player, and also it hits home to their loved ones, you know the loved ones that care about them," Eberflus said. "We're very mindful of that. We've been mindful of that since that tragic incident on Monday Night Football. Been talking to the players ever since that. Had a leadership council meeting this morning to have all of those guys in there together and you can certainly see the impact of that."
While the Bears will play their season finale Sunday against the Vikings at Soldier Field, Eberflus is currently putting the focus on each players' feelings and mental health. A couple of Bears players have personal relationships with Hamlin, but Eberflus understands the closeness between all NFL players and personnel causes the situation to affect everyone.
"The guy's fighting for his life right now," Eberflus said. "Then they see that reflection in the mirror. I think that's a little bit frightening. I think they have to wrap their brain around the violent game they do play and the risk they take every single week. These guys are human, and they have parents and loved ones and wives and aunts and uncles that love them just like any other family. So they're not robots out there. I think that human side of it really came out in that leadership council meeting today."
Bears backup quarterback Nathan Peterman – who will start Sunday's game after Eberflus announced Justin Fields is out with a hip injury – was a senior at the University of Pittsburgh when Hamlin was a freshman.
"It was extremely, just, sobering and crazy to see," Peterman said. "My wife and I were watching it live. Just really felt for him, felt for everybody that was involved. Praying for him a bunch. Constantly just thinking about him, praying for him, praying for his family and going to keep hoping he pulls through."
Peterman recalled talking with Hamlin after the Bears-Bills game on Dec. 24; the QB told his former teammate he was "happy for him, proud of him." While Peterman said each player understands the risks of playing in the NFL, he called Hamlin's situation a "wake-up call to that again."
Bears running back David Montgomery and center Sam Mustipher both spoke to the media Wednesday, expressing their prayers and love for Hamlin and his family while also opening up about the mental health implications of the situation.
"I wanted to send my love, my family's love and the love from this team and the organization to Damar's family," Montgomery said. "Prayer is powerful and it's real and I know that God is constantly working, and I know that God has this situation in complete control. He will work it out and make sure that things are good. So, my love goes out to them and their family."
Montgomery and Mustipher have each leaned on family, friends around the league and Bears teammates while trying to work through their emotions this week.
Mustipher said several Bills players are former college or high school teammates of his, causing the situation to hit him a little harder along with the fact that he shared the field with Hamlin just a couple weeks ago. While Mustipher said he typically internalizes his emotions, he admitted it's been tough to go back to work and not have Hamlin at the forefront of his thoughts.
"I'm not going to lie to you, as tough as you want to be, as macho as you want to be, it's a violent game we play," Mustipher said. "I understand every time I go between the white lines, I might not come out the same guy I was when I walked on. But that's different. You just try your best to compartmentalize everything, compartmentalize those feelings and go out there and play the game you love. I love this game. It's given me so much. It's afforded me so many opportunities throughout my life and you've got to put things in perspective that way and there's really not many words to describe that type of feeling, the emotions, the mixed feelings that I have because I do truly love this game. When you see things like that, you hate to see that happen."
With Tuesday being an off day for the Bears, Wednesday morning was the first time the entire team was able to gather and discuss the situation. Montgomery said it was important to express his love and appreciation for his teammates as humans, not just football players.
As the Bears try to prepare for their final game, Montgomery and Mustipher know the team will continue to lift each other up and pray for Hamlin, his family and the Bills organization. They also expressed their gratitude for how the leaders of the Bears organization have allowed each player to be vulnerable while providing support for everyone's mental health.
"We had a great conversation this morning with the leadership council and the rest of the team," Montgomery said. "[George] McCaskey came down. He talked to us all. He let us all know that he's here with us, he's here for us. We've got our leaders stepping up and allowing everybody to know this is a safe space, this is a safe haven for everyone to talk and be completely vulnerable, so that you can express what you need to express.
"I always say mental health is a real thing and this situation can be triggering for a lot of people's mental health. We're handling it accordingly. We're in constant prayer for him and his family."