baseball baseWhen you think about how successful he was as a football player, it’s jarring to hear.

It’s a tough read, but you should read it nevertheless: in what is otherwise a pleasant retrospective about 40 years of Pittsburgh Steelers football by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, former wide receiver Antwaan Randle El shares some really hard, really sad stuff. He’s not the only one – football leaves its scars – but his hit the most directly for folks around here, I’d expect.

“If I could go back, I wouldn’t [play football],” Randle El told the Post-Gazette. “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.”

Randle shares his struggles with memory loss, confusion, and difficulty going down the stairs. Randle El is 36 years old.

It shakes me a bit just to think about this player – this person – making plays that I loved watching, and slowly destroying his mind and his body to do it. I watched Randle El a lot in college, where he was an electric, play-making quarterback at Indiana. He was clearly a uniquely gifted athlete, and that was setting aside the fact that he also played baseball and basketball in college. It was fun to see what he could do, even if I was usually rooting against him.

And when he played with the Steelers, he was fun as a wide receiver, too. Plus that pass in the Super Bowl? Who doesn’t remember that? Who didn’t enjoy watching it?

Now, I feel guilty. Maybe that’s too dramatic (or maybe that second reaction is self-protection). Still, I can’t shake the feeling I’ve had in my gut since I first read Randle El’s comments. I just feel … sorry for … what, exactly, I don’t know. It’s like I shouldn’t ever have enjoyed it. Not if this was what was going to happen. And what does that mean for my enjoyment of football games to this day? Should I not? Is the sport better about taking care of its players now?

I truly don’t know. I wish for Randle El, like he said, that he’d chosen baseball instead of football. Maybe we’d still be watching him play with the Cubs.

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