Ex-NFL star wishes he never played the sport

PITTSBURGH • Long-time National Football League (NFL) wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, whose trick-play touchdown pass famously helped the Pittsburgh Steelers win Super Bowl XL, said he regrets having ever played football.

The 36-year-old told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he struggles to walk down the stairs and has contended with memory loss since retiring in 2012.

"If I could go back, I wouldn't," the former Indiana University quarterback said of the sport that brought him roughly US$40 million (S$57 million) in career earnings. "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."

A star quarterback at Indiana University, Randle El was converted to wide receiver after being drafted by the Steelers in the second round of the 2002 NFL draft. He finished his nine-year career with 370 receptions for 4,467 yards and 15 touchdowns.

His most famous play came in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XL against the Seattle Seahawks. With the Steelers nursing a 14-10 lead with nine minutes remaining, his 43-yard touchdown to Hines Ward on a gadget play would prove the game's decisive moment.

Still, he insists the glory was not worth the personal cost. "I ask my wife things over and over again, and she's like, 'I just told you that'," he told the 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."

An outspoken critic of the NFL and plaintiff in a 2013 lawsuit claiming the league "has done everything in its power to hide the issue and mislead players concerning the risks associated with concussions", Randle El believes the sport is inherently dangerous and beyond fixing.

"The kids are getting bigger and faster, so the concussions, the severe spinal cord injuries, are only going to get worse," he said. "I tell parents, 'You can have the right helmet, the perfect pads on, and still end up with a paraplegic kid.'

"There's no helmet that's going to correct it... It just comes down to it's a physically violent game."

He added: "I wouldn't be surprised if football isn't around in 20, 25 years." '

THE GUARDIAN

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline 'Ex-NFL star wishes he never played the sport'. Print Edition | Subscribe