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In the days since Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed during a football game and had to be taken to a hospital in Cincinnati, some people have used his near-fatal injury as a vessel to spread their particular flavor of Christianity via prayers, distracting from more pressing issues and denying credit from the medical personnel who saved Hamlin’s life.

This isn’t a general rant against prayer. There are plenty of important conversations we should be having right now, like how the NFL doesn’t prioritize the safety of its players, and if the game’s health protocols and equipment are offering players enough protection, and whether viewers have any moral culpability by watching a violent game with little regard for the humanity of the athletes. It’s also useful to talk about the medical response to Hamlin’s collapse.

But it’s disgusting how some people have used the tragedy to advance their personal religious agenda.

I’m not talking about Hamlin’s teammates who formed a prayer circle on the field after he was taken off the field and into an ambulance. If that’s how they deal with grief or bond as a team, it’s their business. (Unlike a public high school or college, the NFL is a private league and there’s nothing illegal about it. Bremerton, this is not.) The same goes for family members or coaches who said publicly that they’re praying for his safety. If you’re mad about that, you’re just looking for something to be mad about.

What’s frustrating is watching someone like ESPN football analyst Dan Orlovsky deliver Christian prayers on TV on behalf of Damar Hamlin rather than offering useful analysis:

“I heard the Buffalo Bills organization say that we believe in prayer, and maybe this is not the right thing to do, but it’s just on my heart and I want to pray for Damar Hamlin right now. I’m going to do it out loud, I’m going to close my eyes and bow my head, and I’m just going to pray for him,” Orlovsky said.

He continued, “God, we come to you in these moments that we don’t understand, that are hard because we believe that you’re God and coming to you and praying to you has impact. We’re sad. We’re angry. We want answers, but some things are unanswerable. We just want to pray, truly come to you and pray for strength for Damar, for healing for Damar, for comfort for Damar. Be with his family to give him the peace.”

If we didn’t believe that prayer didn’t work, we wouldn’t ask this of you, God. I believe in prayer. We believe in prayer. We lift up Damar Hamlin’s name in Your name. Amen,” he concluded.

Orlovsky got plenty of praise for that stunt but that’s the sort of act that should’ve happened off the clock. There’s no benefit to viewers for watching a football analyst shove his religion in the face of viewers—and if you believe I’m overreacting, just ask yourself how that act would have played with a non-Christian commentator.

“We believe in prayer”? Who’s “we”? Orlovsky acts like ESPN’s viewers share his Christian beliefs, but there’s no reason to believe that’s true.

“Some things are unanswerable”? The only person who should be saying that right now is a public relations staffer for the NFL. Orlavsky’s job is to point out how the safety of players very much depends on the league’s decisions, and a failure on that front should be met with harsh pushback!

It wasn’t just the prayer itself that was a problem. The content wasn’t useful either! Had Orlovsky simply said that no one could possibly know why the injury happened, outside the context of Christianity, no doubt his co-hosts would’ve challenged him. But because his words came in the form of a prayer, they all ignored it.

I’m not arguing Orlovsky should be fired or reprimanded, only that his decision was a waste of viewers’ time during a period when we need people like him to give us useful information and analysis.

Compare what he did with how (the far more capable) host Scott Van Pelt and analyst Ryan Clark handled the immediate aftermath of the injury during SportsCenter. Here’s what Pelt told CNN later:

“I don’t work for a news network that covers traumatic events when they happen,” Van Pelt noted to me. “I’m supposed to come on when the game is over and talk about the great plays and it’s great fun. That’s what we do. And last night that’s not what we did.”

Van Pelt added, “This is supposed to be a fun show. We are the diversion. There is a lot of serious bullsh*t in the world, but we are here for the fun. That’s what we do. But we are also capable of covering something serious.”

Van Pelt said that before going on the air, he made the decision to focus strictly on the known facts. “I kept leaning into what we know,” he said. “We’ll deal in what we know, not in what we wish we knew or hope to find out. And the truth is, we knew very little.”

It was a thoughtful, bullshit-free show that was praised for its handling of an unexpected situation. No formal prayers needed for Damar Hamlin.

Better yet? Check out how co-host Nick Wright responded on FS1’s First Things First. He praised the medical workers for their quick reactions and highlighted how people desperate to channel their grief into something positive donated to Hamlin’s fundraiser. He also brought up how people close to him were religious, even though he wasn’t, and he appreciated that they had their faith to keep them grounded during a tragedy. It was a far more thoughtful reaction that never felt like proselytizing.

He didn’t suggest that the people praying were wrong. It would be insensitive and heartless to use his large platform to do that. But using a large platform to spread religious beliefs is precisely what Orlovsky did—with relatively little backlash.

But all of that pales in comparison to evangelist Franklin Graham, who spent no time thanking the first responders who performed necessary CPR on the field, or the doctors and nurses working on Hamlin as we speak, to his 10 million followers on Facebook. Graham only praised the Buffalo Bills players for praying on the field (“The Buffalo Bills know who to call out to for help!”)… as if Hamlin’s condition fully depended on how many people asked God to intervene, not the experts who know how to deal with medical emergencies.

On another note, that’s the only time Graham will ever praise football players for kneeling.

If people want to use prayer to cope with a traumatic situation, that’s their business and their right. But for people with enormous platforms to pretend God will handle the problem without giving due credit to the medical staff whose education and experience prepared them to take action in that very moment is utterly irresponsible. That’s especially true of those literally paid to offer expertise on the game.

As I write this, Hamlin’s condition is showing “signs of improvement.” There’s a long way to go. If and when he recovers, though, everyone should be grateful for the medical personnel who saved his life.

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Hemant Mehta is the founder of, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.