Antwaan Randle El had a storied NFL career, which included a Super Bowl win 10 years ago with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but, in a recent interview, he says he wished none of it ever happened.
In a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interview commemorating past Steeler championship teams, Randle El raises what have now become familiar concerns about the physical toll the game of football can take. He retired early at the age of 32 in 2012, in part because "The kids are getting bigger and faster, so the concussions, the severe spinal cord injuries, are only going to get worse."
He added: “There’s no correcting it. There’s no helmet that’s going to correct it. There’s no teaching that’s going to correct it. It just comes down to it’s a physically violent game. Football players are in a car wreck every week.”
Randle El's remarks come amid increased attention to the risks of severe, lasting injury in football. The big screen Will Smith film "Concussion," which dramatizes the discovery of the neurological disorder CTE in deceased NFL players, has helped reignite interest in the issue, and even 2016 presidential candidates have weighed in. Republican front-runner Donald Trump complained recently at a campaign rally that "football has become soft like our country has become soft." But Randle El would likely beg to differ.
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The 36-year-old describes struggling to climb stairs and significant memory loss. “I ask my wife things over and over again, and she’s like, ‘I just told you that,’” Randle El told the Post-Gazette. “I’ll ask her three times the night before and get up in the morning and forget. Stuff like that."
What is especially regrettable for Randle El is that fact the he had the potential to play a different sport professionally. He was drafted out of high school to play professional baseball with the Chicago Cubs, but opted to pursue college football instead, because the sport offered him scholarship opportunities at institutions of higher education.
"Don't get me wrong, I love the game of football. But right now, I could still be playing baseball," he said.
Since leaving the league, Randle El joined in a 2013 lawsuit against the NFL that alleged that the league “has done everything in its power to hide the issues and mislead players concerning the risks associated with concussions.” That same year, thousands of other players had rallied to the cause of receiving retribution and the NFL reached a landmark $700 million-plus settlement with former players. A judge upheld the settlement last year, but suggested that the figure agreed upon may be insufficient.
Today, Randle El runs a Christian high school in Virginia that lacks a football program, but only due to funding — not his feelings about his former profession.
That said, the former pro football player predicts that, due to the growing awareness of the dangers of football, "I wouldn’t be surprised if football isn’t around in 20, 25 years.”