Ten years after he threw one of the most celebrated passes in Steelers history, Antwaan Randle El has trouble walking down stairs.
"I have to come down sideways sometimes, depending on the day," Randle El, 36, said. "Going up is easier actually than coming down."
Randle El was an electric athlete, versatile enough to run a route on one play and throw a beautiful spiral on the next, as he did in Super Bowl XL when he found Hines Ward for a 43-yard touchdown on a wide-receiver reverse pass. That his body has begun to betray him before his 40th birthday is hard to fathom. The crazy thing is that Randle El can feel his mind slipping, too.
"I ask my wife things over and over again, and she's like, 'I just told you that,'" Randle El said. "I'll ask her three times the night before and get up in the morning and forget. Stuff like that. I try to chalk it up as I'm busy, I'm doing a lot, but I have to be on my knees praying about it, asking God to allow me to not have these issues and live a long life."
Randle El didn't hesitate when asked if he regrets playing football.
"If I could go back, I wouldn't," he said. "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."
Three years ago, Randle El helped found a Christian high school in Ashburn, Va., called Virginia Academy. He has served as the school's athletic director.
When the school started, Randle El wanted it to have a football program. They funded it for two years before he decided it was too expensive and dropped the sport.
Randle El can justify dropping the sport at the high school level because of the liability alone.
"The kids are getting bigger and faster, so the concussions, the severe spinal cord injuries, are only going to get worse," he said. "… There's no correcting it. … It just comes down to it's a physically violent game. Football players are in a car wreck every week."