Morning news brief
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Injuries are part of all sports, but football is unique for the number of serious injuries people suffer while millions watch on TV.
ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:
Last night came an event so startling that the NFL suspended Monday Night Football. Early in the first quarter, Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills collided with another player, stood up and then collapsed. His heart had stopped.
INSKEEP: NPR's Tom Goldman is covering this story. Tom, good morning.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: Not very often that a 24-year-old suffers cardiac arrest. So what's his team saying?
GOLDMAN: Yeah. The Buffalo Bills released a statement, and it said Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest following a hit in our game versus the Bengals. His heartbeat was restored on the field, and he was transferred to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for further testing and treatment. He's currently sedated and listed in critical condition. Now, Steve, the positive part of that, if you can call anything about this terrifying incident positive, is that the medical personnel, paramedics, got his heart going again on the field using CPR, reportedly a defibrillator. There was real fear that we had watched a young man die on the field. And he appears lucky in the sense that he had outstanding medical help within seconds of his collapse. But as the statement says, he's still in critical condition.
INSKEEP: Well, what was it like to be watching as that happened?
GOLDMAN: Spooky. Like millions of NFL fans, I had settled in to watch what was expected to be a great game between two of the league's best teams. And with about six minutes left in the first quarter, Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow completed a pass to wide receiver Tee Higgins. Higgins collided with Hamlin. Both of them went down. It seemed fairly routine, you know, not one of those hits that makes you cringe. Hamlin got to his feet pretty quickly, but then, as you guys already said, he fell over backwards, wasn't moving.
The aftermath started to unfold the way we often see with a bad injury - fellow players looking concerned, some kneeling. But soon it became apparent that this was beyond. Players were openly crying. TV broadcasters, who are paid to talk, couldn't. They kept saying, there's nothing to say, and then breaking for more commercials. Once Hamlin was taken off the field in an ambulance, the question became, what happens with the game? And players left the field about an hour after Hamlin was stricken. The NFL, with the support of the players union, called off the game. They really had to. I mean, I don't think any player was prepared to continue.
INSKEEP: Yeah, but if this was a routine hit for American football, which it did seem to be, what clues suggest what could have gone wrong?
GOLDMAN: Well, on the play, Higgins, the receiver, barreled into Hamlin's chest. Scott Hensley of NPR's science desk notes there's a medical condition where a hard hit to the chest right in front of the heart can scramble the heart's rhythm if it happens at the exact wrong time during the heartbeat. Now, Scott stresses, though, at this point, that's speculation. We need to hear what doctors say who treated Hamlin.
INSKEEP: You know, Tom, I was watching the big college games on New Year's Eve, really exciting...
INSKEEP: ...But having to explain to my kids, who don't watch as much, just how violent this sport can be. Does this incident say something larger about football?
GOLDMAN: You know, you're seeing people start to plug what happened with Damar Hamlin into that narrative. In fact, minutes before Hamlin went down, we were reminded of the danger when another Buffalo player suffered a head injury and left the game. And it's ironic to note the most controversial story in the NFL this season, the repeated concussions suffered by Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, he suffered a severe head injury in Cincinnati, was transported to the same hospital where Hamlin is being treated. But as easy as it is for some to take the leap and say, see, it's football's fault, it's really not fair at this point without all the information about what happened.
INSKEEP: Well, we'll listen for more of your reporting. NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
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INSKEEP: A new session of Congress begins today, and the first order of business in the House is to elect a speaker.
SCHMITZ: California Republican Kevin McCarthy was nominated by House Republicans for that top leadership post, but not all of them supported him, and he has to win a majority of the full House of Representatives to get the gavel. He's faced a bloc of critics who insist they want someone else.
INSKEEP: NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh has been following McCarthy's efforts. Good morning.
DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: OK, it's the day of the voting, and there's been discussions for some time. Does McCarthy have the votes?
WALSH: Right now he does not. As you said, he needs a majority of the full House. That means 218 votes or a majority of those who are present and voting on the House floor later today. Republicans will only hold a four-seat majority, and there are at least five members who say they don't support McCarthy. Unlike the internal secret ballot in November that McCarthy won inside the House Republican Conference, this vote is in public, and every member is called on to stand and say who they're going to back for speaker.
INSKEEP: And some of them have said in public in the last few days that they're not there. So what do the rebels want?
WALSH: There's been this group pushing to change some of the rules governing how the House actually operates. McCarthy has already agreed to a lot of these rules changes, including one rule that allows a group of just five members to offer a resolution to remove the speaker. McCarthy insisted for weeks he would not agree to this. It effectively weakens the power of the speaker. But it's clear he's under pressure to give in, since he has such a small margin, and it can't afford more than a few defections. But even after McCarthy gave in to some of the demands of these holdouts, a group of nine House Republicans circulated a letter on New Year's Day saying the changes represented some progress but were still insufficient. So the math problem for McCarthy appears to just be getting more and more challenging.
INSKEEP: OK, so what happens if he doesn't get the votes this afternoon?
WALSH: It will be really embarrassing. At a time when Republicans want to be celebrating taking control of the House of Representatives, they're going to be dealing with the public scene of division and chaos. But the vote for speaker will just keep going. It's been a hundred years since it took multiple ballots to elect a speaker, but McCarthy's allies insist they won't vote for any alternative, and even if it's messy, they're going to stick with him. But it's also very important to stress - nothing else can happen in the House of Representatives until a speaker is elected. It's the only leadership position mentioned in the Constitution. Members can't even be sworn in to start the new session of Congress until a speaker is elected.
INSKEEP: OK, is there any alternative candidate?
WALSH: There have been some discussions about trying to rally around a consensus candidate. But McCarthy's allies have been pushing what they say is an O-K strategy - only Kevin. So if they stick with him, it could really drag the process out for hours and hours, maybe even days if McCarthy is unable to convince any of the holdouts to back him. McCarthy's No. 2, Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise, has publicly been backing McCarthy and predicting he will be elected speaker, but if the process drags out, GOP members could turn to Scalise or some other conservative candidate. Scalise, for his part, put out an agenda for the first two weeks of Congress, saying the House is going to vote on measures to cancel the boost in funding to hire more IRS agents, bills dealing with border security and abortion. But until the speaker is elected, House committees can't form, and the rest of business is totally stalled out.
INSKEEP: NPR's Deirdre Walsh. We'll be listening for your reporting as things go forward. Thanks.
WALSH: Thanks, Steve.
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INSKEEP: New York is considering a plan to remove some people living on the street.
SCHMITZ: A group called the Coalition for the Homeless tries to estimate how many people in the city spend their nights in shelters, in tents and on sidewalks. They assert the numbers are the worst in generations. Many residents say they feel unsafe around people who are mentally ill, which is why Mayor Eric Adams says he wants to take some people to hospitals.
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ERIC ADAMS: If severe mental illness is causing someone to be unsheltered and a danger to themselves, we have a moral obligation to help them get the treatment and care they need.
INSKEEP: NPR's Jasmine Garsd has been following this story. Jasmine, good morning.
JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: OK. As you know, as a New York City resident, people have lived on the streets of New York forever, it seems. Why would the mayor address this now?
GARSD: Well, you know, there's been complaints that while New Yorkers are being asked to commute to work again, the subways have become more unsafe. There's been several high-profile incidents, including killings committed by and against people who are unhoused. And the plan's aim is to get help for people who are suffering mental health crises on the streets and on the subways.
INSKEEP: Although, involuntarily hospitalizing people is something that brings up a lot of dark images of the past. What are you hearing from New Yorkers?
GARSD: Oh, it's been controversial. Advocates say it's an uncreative solution to an old problem. They stress that it's already policy that if a person is in danger to themselves or others, they can be hospitalized against their will. The problem with Adams' proposal is the expansion of who it could target. They worry it could lead to involuntary commitment of people who are not unstable, who are just poor and living on the streets.
I spoke with a lot of New Yorkers right after this plan was announced, and most people said, yes, they noticed a considerable increase in homelessness and have at some point been concerned about their safety. One of the people I spoke to is Sarah Trigg in Queens. We chatted as she was waiting for the M train, and she told me at that very station she'd recently had an unsettling encounter. The station, by the way, is above ground, and it was deserted except for...
SARAH TRIGG: A pretty heavyset man just throwing himself against the window. No one was there helping him. I couldn't enter the station. I had to change my plans.
GARSD: So Trigg says there's been a noticeable shift on the subways and that it's definitely getting worse.
INSKEEP: Well, what did the mayor tell you about his plan?
GARSD: Mayor Adams was at times defensive about the plan, which he says has been misrepresented as an NYPD operation. The plan is already facing pushback. Advocates say it's not addressing the root cause of homelessness. It doesn't provide a sustainable mental health support system for people without resources. And it definitely doesn't tackle New York's nightmarish housing shortage. The plan was only announced a few weeks ago, and it's already facing challenges in court. A class-action lawsuit argues that the measure discriminates against people with perceived mental health disabilities.
INSKEEP: Jasmine, thanks for the update. Really appreciate it.
GARSD: Thank you.
INSKEEP: NPR's Jasmine Garsd is in New York City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.