Widow of only NFL player to die on the field responds to Damar Hamlin cardiac arrest: ‘You can’t blame football’

The widow of the only NFL player to die on the field in the histoy of the sport became “very emotional” while watching Damar Hamlin collapse on Monday, she said.

Chuck Hughes was a wide receiver for the Detroit Lions in October 1971 when he clutched his chest and fell to the ground, suffering a fatal heart attack at the end of the team’s game against the Chicago Bears. His widow, Sharon, rode with him in the back of the ambulance before he was pronounced dead.

Just over 51 years later, she felt everything come back when she watched Buffalo Bills safety Hamlin get up from a tackle, take a few steps and then collapse onto the field during Monday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

“Can you imagine how his mother felt?” Ms Hughes told NBC News. “It’s a horrifying feeling, and, well, I just felt so sorry for the whole family last night.”

Hamlin, 24, suffered a cardiac arrest and remained in critical condition on Wednesday. Details have not been released regarding the cause of the medical event, but doctors have speculated it could have been commotio cordis, a sudden cardiac emergency following a hit to the chest. The rare condition , when seen, commonly occurs in young male athletes in action.

Cardiac arrest can occur for many reasons, however, and there is no public information regarding any underlying conditions the player may have had.

Mr Hughes was 28 when he suffered his heart attack in 1971. He had been hospitalised seven weeks before for what doctors told the family appeared to be a spleen, lung or kidney injury, and tests after his death led doctors to believe he’d suffered a first heart attack before the one that killed him, according to Yahoo Sports. An autopsy showed undiagnosed heart disease and found a blood clot in a clogged artery had dislodged, possibly from a hit he took during the game, Yahoo reported.

The Lions player’s son, who is now 53, told NBC he hoped that current NFL athletes were undergoing more advanced and thorough medical tests than what had been available for his father.

“What happened to my father in 1971 is the Stone Ages as far as medicine goes compared to today,” he said. “Are these young men getting the medical care and screenings that they should?”

Like his mother, his thoughts turned to Hamlin’s family, saying “they have a support system here.”

“I would be more than happy to speak with them,” he said. “We certainly understand what they’re going through.”

Ms Hughes told NBC she believed genetics were a major factor in her husband’s death.

“You can’t blame football,” she said, “I never did.”

Now living in Texas, Ms Hughes told The Independent on Wednesday she would not be giving more interviews but added: “Thank you very much for remembering Chuck.”