As the ambulance carrying the injured Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin rolled slowly off the field in Cincinnati Monday night, a huddle of players and team staff knelt in a massive yet intimate circle on the field. They bowed their heads, some placing hands on each other’s shoulders and others with tears streaming down their faces, in a moment of spontaneous prayer led by the team’s chaplain, Len Vanden Bos. The hushed crowd at Paycor Stadium burst into applause as the players knelt and again as they rose.
It was the first of many prayers in an extraordinary display of public piety that has unfurled across the country in the hours and days after Mr. Hamlin’s collapse after what looked like a routine collision early in the game. Mr. Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field and was in critical condition as of Wednesday night at University of Cincinnati Medical Center. The team said he was showing signs of improvement.
The invocations on behalf of the 24-year-old have gone beyond the pro forma “thoughts and prayers” often offered by public figures after a tragedy. The outpouring reveals the way that Christian faith has long been intertwined with American football culture, tied to the sport through its popularity in the Bible Belt. Strengthening the bond is the closeness of players whose risk of physical danger in the high-impact sport has attracted more publicity in recent years.
Video circulated online of Bengals fans reciting the Lord’s Prayer in the stands. On ESPN on Tuesday, the analyst Dan Orlovsky, a former N.F.L. quarterback, told his colleagues on the live broadcast that “it’s just on my heart that I want to pray.” Bowing his head and closing his eyes, he did so.
“I think we all have to recognize the power of prayer from coaches, players, the staff and the fans that was in that stadium, and the people watching from around the world,” Troy Vincent, the executive vice president of football operations at the N.F.L., told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “There is power in prayer.”
To outsiders, the intensity of these expressions of faith might have seemed surprising, an unusual display of public devotion in an increasingly secular culture. To observers of the close relationship between Christianity and American football, the exhortations to prayer were natural.