Most boys growing up in America dream of playing in the National Football League.
For Antwaan Randle El, that dream has become a nightmare. Randle El was once a three-sport star in high school. He played football and basketball at the Indiana University, but wishes he had just played baseball instead of focusing on football.
With the media firestorm that has been surrounding the NFL over the past decade, from the suicide death of Junior Seau through the concussion settlement amount to the release of the Will Smith film Concussion, the safety of the game has come under rapid fire criticism.
Randle El's statement is adding fuel to an already raging fire of people questioning whether their sons should play the violent and brutal contact sport.
Recently Dr. Bennet Omalu, the man who discovered Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, and whose life is chronicled in the Concussion film, published an op-ed piece in the New York Times in which he recommended children not play football until the age of 18, when they are old enough to understand the ramifications of participation.
However, prior to the recognition of this potentially deadly disease, athletes have long been aware that participation in football could greatly limit their quality of life.
There are a multitude of stories about players who were once considered freaks of nature who are suffering in their later years due to the cumulative effect of the sport they loved and a game that brought them such acclaim.
The great Earl Campbell is one of the greatest running backs to ever the play, but rumors of his premature convalescence has been the common lore in certain circles for years. Plainly put, the NFL is just as bad on the muscular skeletal system as it is on the soft tissue of the brain.
There are multitudes of once great football players who are permanently resigned to using canes and wheelchairs in their late 40s and early 50s.
Mike Golic of ESPN’s flagship weekday morning show Mike & Mike has been on record vehemently defending the National Football League as being capable of becoming reformed as a safer sport as far back as 2010.
Arguably one the most likeable sports news personalities on television, Golic’s steadfast commentary in support of the league that once employed him, despite mounting evidence to the danger of the sport, is unfortunate to say the least.
Even Randle El isn’t exactly taking the NFL to task in way, despite the difficulty he has of climbing a flight of stairs at the age of 36.
“If I could go back, I wouldn’t” play football, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette yesterday. “I would play baseball. I got drafted by the Cubs in the 14th round, but I didn’t play baseball because of my parents. They made me go to school. Don’t get me wrong, I love the game of football. But right now, I could still be playing baseball.”
Additionally, Randle El says that he suffers from memory lapses and expressed fear that he might not see his grandchildren one day.
“I ask my wife things over and over again, and she’s like, ‘I just told you that,’ ” Randle El told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’ll ask her three times the night before and get up in the morning and forget. Stuff like that. I try to chalk it up as I’m busy, I’m doing a lot, but I have to be on my knees praying about it, asking God to allow me to not have these issues and live a long life. I want to see my kids raised up. I want to see my grandkids.”
Sobering? That's the understatement of the day.
According to the Village Voice, Randle El and three other former players filed suit against the NFL alleging the NFL had actively and covertly acted to conceal the effects of multiple concussions on the human brain. That lawsuit was then consolidated with those of 2,000 other former players, the total of which later ballooned to 5,000.
That $900 million settlement has been lambasted in media circles as being far too little compensation for those wounded gridiron warriors who will be suffering and in pain for the rest of their lives.
Randle El, though humble and not coming off as being the least bit accusatory in the revelation of his ongoing health issues, is being a soldier to the end. His bravery and candor are to be respected, but he would trade that respect for an age appropriate body and knees that actually work any day.