Over the course of his career in the National Football League, Antwaan Randle El was a force to be reckoned with both as explosive wide receiver and dangerous punt returner. Spending time with both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Washington Redskins, he played in two Super Bowls (on the winning team in 2005 and the losing team in 2010), and he is the only wide-receiver in Super Bowl history to ever throw a successful touchdown pass. His time in the NFL lasted nine years, ending in 2010, and earned him over 22 million dollars. Earlier this week, Randle El joined another statistical category of post NFL’ers with residual concerns from the years of trauma created by repeated impacts, which led him to make a statement off the field more important than any he ever made on it:
It wasn’t worth it.
In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Randle El made mention physical ailments which are surely common for many athletes playing a sport which is built upon aggression and repeated contact – sore knees, challenges with stairs, and so on. He also suggested the recent development of his own cognitive concerns may be attributed to his time playing football and his multiple concussions. The two most serious of which occurring while playing college ball in Indiana, and the second as a member of the 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers, respectively. He even speculated that football as a sport, and a business, may disappear within his lifetime, due to the increasing awareness of just how detrimental multiple concussions can be.
Randle El’s statements created a flurry of reactive public relations activity, much of which seemed based in disbelief that a member of the NFL’s fraternity would actually regret the experience, much less go anti-establishment and express themselves. After realizing the shock wave he had created, the next day he offered this clarification of his statements. In a nutshell, his body is “intact”. His memory, not so much. The one point he did maintain, though, is something that we all should stop and listen to: Football is a game, and the pressuring of kids, college athletes, and professional athletes to hurry up and get back on the field for the sake of the next game, or even the next championship, can have lifelong consequences reaching far beyond the final whistle. The game of living a healthy life is far more important.
“Listen to your body”, Randle El suggests.
Currently 36 years old, Antwaan Randle El has been retired from professional sports since the end of the 2010 season. If his knees are, in fact, troublesome, surely pain management and perhaps surgical intervention are in his future. Like it or not, it’s the price he will pay for a career filled with crossing routes and post patterns. Sadly, his options may be far more limited in the treatment of his memory loss secondary to concussion, if that is in fact what has occurred.
The famed Return to Play Protocol has, and certainly will continue, to provide coaches and medical staff at all levels a means for recognizing and managing potential head injuries on the field. When it works well, this program should reduce the risk of long-term cognition challenges like the memory loss Antwaan Randle El experiences, as well as the unfortunate residuals of others whose brains simply could not remain healthy in the wake of repeated impacts. Sadly, some of those situations even end in tragedy. Take Pro Bowl linebacker Junior Seau as an example, whose brain was examined after he committed suicide at the age of 43, and it was determined that he had “suffered a debilitating brain disease likely caused by two decades of hits to the head.” This quote is from an article published by ABCNews shortly after Seau’s death.
Depending on who you choose to believe, Antwaan Randle El’s comments are anywhere from the tip of the iceberg to much ado about nothing. One thing is for certain though, after a loved one has a sports related concussion, we as parents and coaches need to decide just how important that next touchdown really is.
I have my opinion. What’s yours?
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