Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Another casualty

You remember Antwaan Randle El for the Monsoon Bowl, that gloomy day against Purdue when the rain came sideways and it was full dark at 1 in the afternoon, and only Randle El shone. Indiana won the Bucket that day because only Randle El seemed immune to the weather, and Purdue struggled against the latter and couldn't corral the former.

Football simply suited the man. But now?

Now, at the end of a career that included an iconic option touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, he'd give back every day of it.

Ten years out from that Super Bowl, a player gifted with eel-like elusiveness has trouble negotiating a set of stairs, and he says he's having memory lapses, says he can't hold things in his head his wife tells him. He says he wants to be around, fully around, for his kids. And as such, if he had it to do over, he'd had have played baseball instead.

And here we go again. It is an increasingly familiar refrain, and one the NFL still struggles to master. Its stubborn denial that its game was inflicting serious and lasting brain trauma on its players not only called to mind tobacco executives denying their product caused cancer, it put in serious jeopardy the very future of the game. You can survive these things if you're aggressively proactive about it; you can't if you damage your credibility the way the NFL did.

Football will always be a perilous sport to play, but it's also a great sport if those running it exercise some wisdom. But when the leader of the industry lies so repeatedly about its dangers, who can trust anything it says or does on the matter ever again? And why should parents set their children on a path that could place them in the hands of such incredibly irresponsible people?

Ultimately, that's what this is about. Mike Webster dying lost and addled in his truck, Dave Duerson and Andre Waters and Junior Seau killing themselves to escape the torment in their heads, those are merely the symptoms of a larger problem. The problem is trust, and the betrayal of same. The problem is an Antwaan Randle El regretting he ever stepped foot on a football field, or of skilled players in their 20s quitting the game because they didn't want to end up with the same regrets.

And because they couldn't trust the people in charge of the game to keep them from winding up like Randle El, or more tragic figures.

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