Even if you’re not a football fan, you no doubt heard about Damar Hamlin (jersey #3) — the Buffalo Bills safety who collapsed on the field during a game on January 2, 2023.
Football is a sport that contains, and even thrives on, contact, impact and sometimes violence. We’ve all seen players get injured. They go down- it’s a knee, an ankle, a concussion, you name it. Sometimes they walk off on their own; other times medical staff help. A quick thumbs up from the injured player on their way to the locker room, and the crowd politely applauds the player’s well-being.
But Damar’s situation was decidedly different.
An Unexpected Crisis
After a very routine tackle, Damar immediately stood to his feet. And just as immediately, stumbled backwards and collapsed on the field. Medical staff promptly arrived from the sidelines. Damar had no pulse and was not breathing. Medical personnel spent several minutes performing CPR while more than 65,000 fans stood in stunned silence and millions watching around the world followed suit.
This was different, and everyone knew it instinctively. This was bad.
Players recognized the severity of the situation right away. Bills teammates came together on the field to encircle Damar and the medical team with a ring of protection. As he was taken away by ambulance, the whole team knelt in a circle and prayed for their teammate. All players returned to the locker rooms, and ultimately, the game was canceled.
Based on how shaken the players were, but especially Buffalo’s players, there was simply no scenario where they could continue. They needed to know their brother was ok.
A Protective Brotherhood
Bills fans, the Buffalo community and even the organization goes by the nickname, “Bills Mafia.” The moniker started as a joke but became a movement. It’s not lost on me that the term ‘mafia’ is generally, and correctly, thought of as negative. But the Bills flipped its meaning from organized crime to a community of people who care deeply about something bigger than themselves.
Thankfully, Damar has shown remarkable improvement and medical staff expect him to recover. But in watching the team rally support on the field that night, I was struck by the cohesiveness demonstrated by all the players in the circle.
It was more than colleagues at work, more than teammates, more than camaraderie. It was a brotherhood.
Develop Trusting Relationships
NFL teams are just like your credit union or community bank’s team. That is, the same group of people you see and work with day in and day out. Do you have a “Bills Mafia” level of brotherhood or sisterhood in your shop?
My guess is no. But why not? What’s the difference? It’s mutual trust.
Any team can get there—yours included. You must only put in the time and effort to develop those relationships. That circle of brothers on the field in early January didn’t happen overnight. It started with OTAs (organized team activities) in the offseason, it happens every day in practice, in film room, at breakfast, at lunch, on the sidelines. They built trust over time—vulnerability-based trust.
Build Your Mafia
Forge your own team’s mutual trust with the same discipline as an NFL team. Go through debate, conflict, understanding, commitment and accountability. Have a powerful, shared vision. Ensure everyone rows in the same direction, toward the same point, on the same horizon, guided by the same North Star.
Team cohesion failures create a disjointed work environment. Staff may simply go through the motions, do the bare minimum or refuse to sacrifice for each other.
Treat the illness, not the symptom. When something goes wrong, how many members of your “team” will you find encircling each other? Encircling you?
Think about that image. Build the circle. It takes time and effort - real elbow grease. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Build your mafia.