Antwaan Randle El stunned the football world this week with revelations that his once magnificent body is betraying him — and that his mind is stumbling, too. Not yet 40, the formerly indomitable Pittsburgh Steelers receiver becomes yet another piece of grisly evidence in the case against football. Randle El went so far as to say that if he could go back in time he wouldn’t have chosen to play football at all. In hindsight, Randle El says, he’d leave it all undone — the Super Bowl ring, the glory, the camaraderie, the rare emotional heights of being a world-beater. He’d trade them in for a chance to grow old and meet his grandchildren, an opportunity to have his full wits about him as his children grow up, and the ability to walk without pain.
Commentators are describing Randle El’s stance as a big problem for the NFL — and it may well be, though the league has survived Junior Seau’s suicide and a host of other tough situations. But it’s important to put Randle El’s regrets in perspective. When Antwaan Randle El says he wouldn’t have chosen to play football had he known the price it would exact, he doesn’t mean that he would instead have chosen to go to law school or become a cook or drive a taxi. He’s not saying that instead of NFL glory, he’d have chosen the quiet life of the regular man. What Randle El means is that he would have played professional baseball instead. He was drafted by the Cubs out of high school, and he believes (despite never having played MLB) that if he hadn’t chosen football he “could still be playing baseball” now at age 36. So when Randle El says that in retrospect he’d trade in all his football glory — he’s saying he’d trade it for baseball glory that lasted longer. That’s just different from saying he wouldn’t ever have played football if he’d known it was dangerous.