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What to know about Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin

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Damar Hamlin, the Buffalo Bills safety who collapsed on the field during “Monday Night Football,” is a Pittsburgh-area native who has credited his parents for helping him navigate the adversity of his childhood and reach the NFL.

Hamlin, 24, grew up in McKees Rocks, Pa., a northwest suburb of Pittsburgh, and became a star defensive back at Central Catholic High. He continued his ascent at the University of Pittsburgh, and when he was a fifth-year senior, he became a team captain. In 2020, a season challenged by the coronavirus, Hamlin led the Panthers with 67 tackles and seven passes defended. He received second-team all-ACC honors.

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In 2021, Buffalo picked him in the sixth round of the NFL draft. Hamlin was a reserve as a rookie, mostly playing on special teams, but this year, after an injury to starting safety Micah Hyde, he stepped into a crucial role. Hamlin proved a steady starter for the Super Bowl contenders and had a breakout performance against the New York Jets in a Week 9 loss; he had one quarterback hit and 12 tackles (one for loss).

During Hamlin’s rise, several articles described his hometown — known as “The Rocks” — as a hardscrabble place. When Hamlin was growing up, his father, Mario, once turned to selling drugs, according to a 2021 story by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Mario spent 3½ years in prison, but after he was released, Hamlin said, his father and his mother, Nina, were critical in his upbringing.

“I would just really give all that credit to my parents — that’s really like the biggest difference that I’ve seen in everyone’s lives that was around me growing up,” Hamlin told the Democrat and Chronicle. “Just that fact of having two parents in my life that were dedicated to me and all into me, every move from being little to growing up.”

“What an accomplishment for Damar to avoid things,” Bills General Manager Brandon Beane told the paper. “He knows people that have died or whatever but at the end of the day he’s about football, he’s a good person, and he’s going to be a good pro.”

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Shortly after graduating from college, Hamlin moved to expand his brand. He issued digital trading cards, known as non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and founded a lifestyle and clothing brand called Chasing M’s. He became more active charitably in his hometown, where his parents reportedly still run a day care and an office-cleaning business.

In 2020, Hamlin started hosting a toy drive to benefit the day care. In 2021, he gave away 500 toys to children and told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review it felt like “a duty of mine.”

“I watched my dad do it in many different ways growing up and I watched how everyone viewed him,” Hamlin told the Tribune-Review. “I always wanted to bring my people that same feeling. It inspired me growing up. This is the main reason why I wanted to make it to the NFL, to take care of my people.”


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