AT Alum Part of Bills Staff that Saved Football Player’s Life

Instance underscores the need for qualified athletic trainers, faculty say

By Ryan Clark
CHS Communications Director

Tabani Richards, who earned a Master of Science degree in Athletic Training from UK in 2014, is part of the Buffalo Bills athletic training staff that saved the life of safety Damar Hamlin after he collapsed on the field following a tackle in last week’s NFL Monday Night Football game against Cincinnati.

Up until Monday, Richards — whose job title is listed as the Bills’ assistant athletic trainer — remained with Hamlin at the hospital at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

It was reported that Hamlin was able to return to a hospital in Buffalo on Monday, Jan. 9.

It has been a week since Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest and collapsed after making a tackle against the Cincinnati Bengals. Hamlin got up after the tackle, then immediately fell back to the ground. A team of healthcare workers, including Richards, then provided treatment for the player, which included administering CPR and reviving the player through resuscitation and defibrillation. He was then taken to nearby University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he continued to receive treatment.

Eyewitnesses have noted that fellow assistant athletic trainer Denny Kellington was the first to start administering the CPR; however, the entire AT staff has been honored this past week for their efforts.

“It’s certainly not an exaggeration to say that the skilled and the immediate response by all of these talented caregivers prevented a very tragic outcome at that moment,” NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills told the media last week.

The entire team was honored before the Bills final regular season home game Sunday.

Only one person was absent — Richards stayed back in Cincinnati with Hamlin. This weekend, the player was able to breathe on his own and started to speak. And when he continued to improve and wanted to engage in a Facetime phone call with his team, Richards was able to make that happen, too.

One of the best things Richards was able to do while in the hospital with Hamlin? He was able to keep the player updated on the surging number of dollars that were being donated to the player’s charity foundation.

The Chasing M’s Foundation was set up to donate toys to children in Hamlin’s hometown of Pittsburgh. The original goal was to raise $2,500. As of this week, the foundation has raised over $8.6 million.

“Tabani was keeping up with that and he was like, ‘Hey, man, he’s at three-point (million) this, he’s at 4.1, and we were laughing with his mom; you try to have some laughable moments in there,” Bills General Manager Brandon Beane told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. “And she’s like, ‘He just wanted $2,500 for this thing.’ Some of the toys he bought (in the past), there was always like some disagreements with which child gets this toy and that one and I was like, ‘You’re gonna be passing out cars next year, not toys.’”

Richards, who earned his undergraduate degree in kinesiology and athletic training at Georgia, began working with the Bills in 2018. Before that, he worked for the Chicago Bears, the San Francisco 49ers, and served as an athletic trainer in Lexington.

Faculty in the Athletic Training department say the instance only highlights the importance and need for qualified athletic trainers — something UK and the College of Health Sciences can provide.

“The event that happened last Monday evening showed the entire world that athletic trainers save lives. They work hard to prevent, prepare and respond to medical emergencies and this is a prime example of the amazing work athletic trainers do on a daily basis and why they are so important to the health and safety of physically active populations,” said Johanna Hoch, PhD, ATC, an Associate Professor in the Department of Athletic Training and Clinical Nutrition, and Program Director of the Professional Masters in Athletic Training. “We prepare and train for these events across our curriculum, we examine best practices and have our students engaged in these critical trainings and communications within their clinical education experiences to ensure they are ready for these events. These trainings and continued education are essential to ensure the response that we all saw unfold that night. The Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals athletic training staffs and additional medical personnel that are integral to the response we saw should be applauded for their actions. I hope they recognize how athletic trainers and sports medicine teams across the country and beyond are recognizing them for their efforts.”

The College of Health Sciences offers the accelerated Bachelor of Science in Human Health Sciences and Master of Science in Athletic Training Program, or the UK-CAT (Connecting Bachelor’s to Master Degree in Athletic Training), which enables students in the Human Health Sciences (HHS) pre-athletic training track to earn a Bachelor of Science in Human Health Sciences and a Master of Science in Athletic Training in just five years.

“Tabani Richards and the entire Buffalo Bills’ athletic training staff should continue to be commended for their actions,” said Scott Lephart, Dean of the College of Health Sciences. “In the most dire of circumstances they performed their duties and saved a player’s life. It’s amazing. Of course, this is the most extreme of situations. Every day and night, athletic trainers everywhere are out doing their jobs and helping athletes overcome injuries. While we hope nothing as severe as Damar Hamlin’s injury should ever happen again, it does make one feel good to know that our athletes’ safety is in such talented, capable hands.”

Interested in Athletic Training? Apply here.