He Died on NFL Field in 1971. His Widow Speaks on Hamlin

'I was very emotional' about Bills player, says Sharon Hughes, wife of Chuck Hughes
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 4, 2023 12:26 PM CST

Emotions ran high Monday night in Cincinnati after Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest and collapsed on the field during a game against the Bengals, receiving CPR before being rushed to a local hospital. One person watching at home was especially distraught: Sharon Hughes, the widow of Chuck Hughes, the only NFL player to ever die during a game. "I was very emotional," Sharon Hughes tells NBC News of what she witnessed earlier this week, a haunting callback to what happened to her husband more than 50 years ago. Chuck Hughes, a wide receiver for the Detroit Lions, collapsed of a heart attack at the end of the fourth quarter in a game against the Chicago Bears on Oct. 24, 1971, per KTSM.

Unbeknownst to him, he'd had an undiagnosed clogged artery, and a blood clot broke loose, possibly as the result of a hit he sustained. Efforts to resuscitate him on the field in front of a stunned crowd were unsuccessful; he was pronounced dead at a local hospital. The game, meanwhile, was played to its completion. Hughes had suffered a medical incident earlier that season in which he collapsed in the locker room during a game against the Buffalo Bills. He was hospitalized, but tests didn't indicate anything was wrong with his heart, per the Detroit Press. Sharon Hughes, in her mid-20s at the time, ended up filing a $21.5 million malpractice lawsuit against Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital for not catching his condition. She settled for an undisclosed amount in 1974.

Watching Hamlin collapse on Monday brought it all back for the widow, now 77 and living in Texas. "Can you imagine how his mother felt?" she says, per NBC. "It's a horrifying feeling, and, well, I just felt so sorry for the whole family." The Detroit News has photos of Hughes as a player and with his family, including his son Brandon, who was just a toddler when Hughes died. Brandon Hughes, now 53, tells NBC that Hamlin's family "[has] a support system here" from his own family if they need it.

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Writing for CNN, Jeff Pearlman notes that the cases of both Hughes and Hamlin lead to "the question we can't avoid"—namely, "Is a game that results in so much pain and suffering a reasonable pursuit in an enlightened society?" Hamlin, meanwhile, is said to still be in critical condition as of early Wednesday. (Hamlin's uncle says his nephew "basically died on the field" before being resuscitated.)

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