New England Patriots team captain Matthew Slater is on record saying that leadership would always be easiest when times are as well. In contrast, the current situation he and the entire league find themselves in has been a challenge.
On Monday, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field and has remained hospitalized ever since. While news have been encouraging coming out of UC Medical Center in Cincinnati, Hamlin’s well-being is the primary concern across pro football — including a Patriots team that is scheduled to play the Bills this week.
In what has been an unprecedented experience for most of the organization, pressure is on its leadership to provide guidance. The Patriots turned to Slater for that, at the behest of head coach Bill Belichick.
“Bill asked me to pray with the guys earlier in the week,” he told reporters on Thursday. “I think my role this week has been to lead spiritually. I’ve always felt like that was my role on the team. You guys have been covering me for a long time. You know that my faith is the most important thing in my life. Far more important than me playing the game. So, I’ve tried to be there for guys in that way.
“My family and I have been praying for Damar and everyone involved in the situation, and I think it’s evident that a lot of people are praying, because he seems to be making some great progress. You lead how you can, but at the core it’s really about guys knowing that you’re there for them if they need you. We’re all processing this in our own way and just kind of taking it day by day.”
While not as involved in Hamlin’s collapse as the Bills are, the Patriots do find themselves affected by the situation. Not only are they all in the same profession, they will also take on Buffalo in the two teams’ regular season finale on Sunday.
From that perspective, Slater noted that this week has been an opportunity for team bonding on a deeper level.
“A lot of times what’s missed in all of this is that football’s entertainment,” he said. “At the end of the day if you want to boil it down, we’re entertainers. But that’s just our job. People live a life and experience a wide range of emotions in life. You have a wide range of experiences that you experience in life, and you process those things differently. That’s what makes us human — our life experience, our interaction with other human beings and how we’re touched and how that all ebbs and flows together.
“Certainly, I think it’s been a great opportunity for us as a team to pull back some of the layers and just, kind of like, ‘Hey, football is secondary. How are we going to do this? How is your family handling this?’”
Slater has been through several highs and lows in his 15 seasons with the Patriots, and throughout it all has helped set the tone for the rest of the team. This is now different, and he made sure of it on Thursday.
“I just want make that clear that we are praying for Damar’s well-being,” he said. “We want to see him healthy. We want to see him well. Obviously your heart goes out to his family, his teammates, their organization. But first and foremost we are praying for him and just asking the Lord to do what the Lord does.”