Harris, 32, a backup safety and special teams player, prepared some words to open the discussion.
“After just thinking about it, praying and reading the (Bible) and everything, the title that I came up with is, ‘Don’t lose sight, it’s just a game,’” Harris said. “I kind of just went on to address the players. It was a message to the players. A message to the players to not lose sight of what we do and who we are as human beings.”
Smith used the regularly scheduled team meeting to discuss Hamlin, who suffered a cardiac arrest on the field Monday night against the Bengals.
Most of the players know the risk of injury in football is high.
“A lot of us get caught up in losing our identity in contracts, stats and accolades,” Harris said. “We chase the ‘what’ instead of the ‘why,’ and we lose sight of that. Fans as well.
“They forget that we are human beings because our platform is so large. It comes with the territory, but at the same time, it was cool to see that the fans have some empathy for us, saw that we were humans. Just everybody coming together in this crazy and shaken moment.”
Harris’ speech resonated with the team.
“He was really good,” Falcons Pro Bowl guard Chris Lindstrom said. “Really thought out. That’s why you’re lucky to have guys like him around who really put in a lot of thought to everything. He’s been around a while. Tragic, though, and very scary.”
After the meeting, but before practice, Smith spoke to the media.
“We send our thoughts and prayers to Damar Hamlin, his family and the entire Bills organization,” Smith said. “We are praying for him. When you see something like that happen, obviously it puts a lot of things about life into perspective. Just wanted to make sure that the Bills know, Damar and his family know, that we are supporting them, thinking about them and praying for them.”
Smith was asked how he processed the events from the game.
“I can’t speak for any other coach,” Smith said. “I can only speak for myself. You process when you see something ... that out in the open that is traumatic. Everybody has got different ways that they deal with things. I don’t want to go into more detail about my private thoughts or things I addressed with the team. That’s just not who I am. Doesn’t make me any better or worse.”
Smith had no problem with addressing the state of the team in light of the Hamlin case as the Falcons are preparing to play Tampa Bay in the regular-season finale Sunday.
“You acknowledge life,” Smith said. “There is more to life than football. Sometimes it’s hard. You get so focused on your craft or your job, you lose perspective.
“It shouldn’t take something like this to make you think about perspective. Certainly, those are things you acknowledge and we talk about all the time.”
Falcons linebacker Mykal Walker, one of the hard-hitters on the team, doesn’t think of the risks in playing.
“But seeing something like this happen, you can’t do nothing but pray and hope that he’s going to be OK,” Walker said. “But it makes it so surreal for us.”
Falcons rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder was stunned by the heart attack.
“You think about those hits where a guy may get paralyzed, which is some of the worst things that we’ve seen happen on the field,” Ridder said. “You never really see something like this.”
The Falcons believe their game will be held as scheduled.
“From everything I’ve been told, we’re playing Sunday at 1 o’clock,” Smith said. “There are things you are privy to and things that you are not. When it came to this week, planning and what the schedule is going to be, that’s what you ask. Everything that I’ve been told, we’re playing Sunday at 1 o’clock.”
Support staff was available to the players.
“Whatever they need is always available,” Smith said.
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.