What price does a person put on his or her long-term health, or on the risks associated with chasing and realizing a dream?
It’s a question that comes up a lot in sports, not only because athletes are tempted to try dangerous substances in order to transform their bodies but because the dangers in their profession don’t stop at retirement.
So here’s a ballpark figure to kick around, as provided by former Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins wide receiver Antwaan Randle El.
The best that I can tell, he made at least $8 million playing professional football and possibly more than $10 million when signing bonuses and such are factored in.
Now Randle El is telling the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he wishes he could go back in time and skip football altogether, which in turn means he would do without all those millions as part of the deal.
At 36, he sees signs of his memory slipping. There are the usual physical problems, too, like trouble walking down stairs. Just as it is with all of us, those physical issues will get worse with time, but in the case of Randle El it’s all happening just a little too fast.
Do you think he’s whining, having already enjoyed the riches of NFL life?
Do you think he should have taken all the risks into account before he put on a helmet and charged into the chaos of repeated collisions? After the fact, Randle El and others sued the NFL for what they deem as a coverup on the effects of concussions and they shared in the compensation of a major settlement.
It’s an issue that conflicts with my love for hunkering down in the recliner and watching football all weekend. Included in that is cheering loudly for every crushing hit my defense delivers and sometimes longing for a quicker resumption in the action when it takes several minutes to help an injured player off the field. Lousy to admit such a thing, but there it is.
In all of this, however, is a deep personal dread for loved ones and friends who battle with memory problems. When it’s bad, they lose great chunks of their lives. When it’s worse, everyone they knew becomes a stranger, no more dear than a first-time acquaintance.
If there was an amount of money to be paid to reverse that process completely, who wouldn’t give all they could through gifts and loans and bake sales and pledge drives to make it happen for someone important to them? Who, in the case of a family member, wouldn’t consider somewhere between $8 million and $10 million to be a worthy price for such an exchange.
Randle El makes me think hard about such things. I believe him when he says he is scared. I believe him when he says that football ultimately was not the right sport for him, and that he regrets participating in it now rather than baseball.
Will millions of young players and their parents skip right over this story and get back to working for a college football scholarship or a professional football contract, or will they simply prefer to focus on the fun? Yeah, I believe that, too.
Good thing, I guess, that I don’t have the astonishing levels of skill and drive that make it possible to play professional football. Then I wouldn’t be able to just sit around and noodle on the maybes and the what-if’s. I’d have to make a decision.
A potentially life-altering decision, for the good or the bad, or more likely a ton of both.
If these guys truly are the “lucky” ones, which is how we view NFL players with their fat contracts, at least they should understand the odds. If nothing else, Randle El and others in his same situation are opening a window on that.