ANTWAAN RANDLE EL
The 36-year-old former wide receiver appreciates his time in the NFL but may be paying for the hits he took, causing him to fear what the future might hold.
DAN PATRICK:What was the reaction to the article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where you were quoted as saying that if you could go back, you wouldn't play football?
ANTWAAN RANDLE EL: The article is real. But I want people to realize that I'm in no way dying, keeling over, struggling to get around or anything like that. If you look at the article, I expressed that sometimes I have these pains [in my legs] when it comes to going up and down the stairs. Sometimes I have to put two feet on each step going down the stairs because of the pain in my knees, ankles and feet. And the memory [loss] thing, that could also be because I have six kids. I have a lot going on. I helped to start a high school [Virginia Academy in Ashburn, Va., where he is an athletic director]. But because I played football, some of this memory loss gives me concern that [it] came from some of the hits I took.
DP:Did you hide injuries when you were playing?
ARE: I played injured. That's part of it. Having the knowledge that I have now, I wouldn't have. When I got dinged and I knew I was concussed, I should have stepped out of the game. That's one thing I want to teach the young folks—the Pop Warner, high school and college kids—and let them know that if you get nicked up, it's O.K. to come out.
DP:Was it worth it?
ARE: I look back on the things I experienced—winning the Super Bowl [with the Steelers in 2006] and being compensated the way that I was for nine seasons [a total of $22.3 million in salary]—it certainly has given me this idea that playing football has been worth it. But when I look at the pain I experience now, I always think, Could I have taken another path? [Randle El, an outfielder, was the Cubs' 14th-round pick in 1997.]
DP:The Broncos recently accused your former quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of playing up his injuries.
ARE: Nonsense. When Ben is injured, he's injured. He's not going to fabricate any injuries. He's a guy I saw work through injuries and play extremely well. We got to one point where we'd say, "Ben, you play better when you're hurt."
DP:What about your comment that football might not exist 20 or 25 years from now?
ARE: You have so many kids on the younger level stepping away from the contact and saying they want to play flag football or not play football at all. [Participation] will dissipate if there's not some better teaching in terms of safety.
NFL Network analyst Marshall Faulk has an idea for Peyton Manning after he retires. "Does the Manning family try to buy a team?" Faulk asked. "How about the Saints? Their owners, the Bensons, are fighting over ownership. I'm sure between Eli, Archie and Peyton there's enough there for them to acquire one." ... Former NBA coach and current ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy doesn't like when teams foul poor free throw shooters intentionally. "Fouling should never be rewarded," Van Gundy said. "Fouling is not a skill. I don't think you should ever be able to benefit from fouling." ... Bills Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly offered his opinion on ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary on Buffalo's four straight Super Bowl losses. "I enjoyed it, but I didn't like the title," Kelly told me. "Four Falls of Buffalo? O.K., bud, we know we fell. But we got back up."
MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (PATRICK)
GREGORY SHAMUS/GETTY IMAGES (RANDLE EL)
TIBRINA HOBSON/WIREIMAGE/GETTY IMAGES (FAULK, KELLY)
RANDY HOLMES/ABC/GETTY IMAGES (VAN GUNDY)