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Commanders offer their support to Bills safety Damar Hamlin

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Khaleke Hudson stared at the television in shock as his childhood friend Damar Hamlin collapsed after taking a hit and had to be resuscitated on the football field.

He did not know what to say. The two went to high school 30 minutes from each other and are still in a group chat with other NFL players from the Pittsburgh area. They created a bond going on recruiting trips and staying in touch as they pursued their shared goal of being professional players.

Hudson was optimistic when he spoke to reporters in the Washington Commanders' locker room -- Hamlin's status has improve from needing 100% help with getting oxygen to 50% -- but it was clear that the moments of watching Hamlin, who he sees as a brother, fight for his life on a football field still weighed heavily on him.

"I was trying to reach out to his family, trying to reach out to somebody who had any type of information on how he was doing," Hudson said. "It was a very stressful time for me."

The NFL screeched to a halt on Monday night when Hamlin collapsed and went into cardiac arrest in the first quarter of the Buffalo Bills' primetime game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Two days later, Hamlin remains in critical condition but is making improvements, and in the time since the 24-year-old suffered the traumatic injury, players and coaches across the league have offered their prayers and support.

"We know it was a terrifying situation that transpired," head coach Ron Rivera said at the start of his Wednesday press conference, "and we're praying for Damar and hoping that he's able to make a full recovery."

Like Hudson, Terry McLaurin was shocked at what he was seeing on the television with his girlfriend and family. He has seen injuries before and even players getting carted off the field, but he has never witnessed something like what he saw with Hamlin was never at the top of his mind. As athletes, he said, they know the risk that comes with playing the game, but someone's life being on the line is not the first thought that comes to mind.

"It definitely puts things in perspective for us all," McLaurin said.

McLaurin's first thought after the injury was to pray for Hamlin and his safety, and it brought him comfort to know that millions of people were doing the same thing.

"It's encouraging to see the overwhelming amount of support that he's getting from the Bills, the Bengals and just around the league and the country."

Taylor Heinicke said players know moments like what happened to Hamlin are a possibility, but seeing it happen is a "scary" situation.

"We're people, too," Heinicke said. "We go out there and leave our body on the line every week, and things like this can happen. It's very unfortunate, it's really sad, and we're all praying for him."

Hudson has known Hamlin for most of his life, and one thing that has not changed about the McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania native is his generosity for others. Hamlin's a very caring person, Hudson said, and loves giving back to the community. That is clear by what he does off the field, which includes hosting football camps with Hudson in the offseason.

"He's just a standup guy," Hudson said. "He's a role model, he's everything you think of ...Just being with him, working with him, doing stuff like that, it's just a true blessing, and it's a blessing to call him a friend."

Those traits have been put in the spotlight as the league has rallied around Hamlin in the past two days. All 32 teams have changed their profile pictures on social media to Hamlin's No. 3 jersey with messages to pray for Hamlin and his family.

And when Hamlin does make a full recovery, he will see that his toy drive, Chasing M's Foundation, has seen an outpouring of donations. After asking for a goal of $2,500, the foundation has received more than $6.6 million on its GoFundMe page.

Hudson believes Hamlin will appreciate everyone who has helped support his cause.

"It's just a blessing, man," Hudson said of the donations. "I hate it had to be this way, but I'm so glad everyone knows the person he is, how caring he is."

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