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This former football star is already showing signs of brain damage. He's 36.

Antwaan Randle El is only 36 years old, and his regrets should make the NFL take a long look in the mirror.

This former football star is already showing signs of brain damage. He's 36.

In 2006, Antwaan Randle El achieved something thousands of kids across the U.S. dream about: throwing a game-clinching touchdown pass in the Super Bowl.

Photo by G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images.


The most unbelievable part? He wasn't even the quarterback.

Photo by SteelCityHobbies/Flickr.

He was a wide receiver.

There's a good chance you remember this play, especially if you're a Pittsburgher (or, more ruefully, if you're a Seattleite,) but if you don't, do yourself a favor and take a look. Pure awesomeness.

It's the kind of feel-good, unlikely success story that, under different circumstances, might have turned the former Pittsburgh Steeler into an ambassador for the game.

Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images.

Instead, in an astonishing interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Randle El dropped a bombshell: He regrets ever playing football.

"If I could go back, I wouldn’t," Randle El told the paper. "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."

The reason?

A healthy brain, left, and a brain with signs of advanced CTE, right. Photo by Boston University Center for the Study of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy/Wikimedia Commons.

According to the interview, since his retirement in 2010, Randle El has been contending with progressive physical and mental deterioration. He frequently loses his balance walking down stairs. He has trouble remembering things that happened just a few minutes earlier.

Randle El is only 36 years old.

Although Randle El has not received a diagnosis, his symptoms raise fears of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disorder which has shortened the lives of too many former NFL players.

Frank Gifford, a former NFL player, was posthumously diagnosed with CTE. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The result of repetitive mild head trauma, CTE often begins by subtly shifting the mood and personality of those who suffer from the disease. Alzheimer's- and Parkinson's-like symptoms often follow, and early death is a common result.

There is evidence that former football players are among the most commonly affected.

A landmark study conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University examined the brains of 91 former NFL players and found evidence of CTE in a whopping 96% of them. That same year, The NFL settled a lawsuit with thousands of former players affected by symptoms of the disease for $1 billion.

What can be done about this?

No one really knows for sure. By most important metrics, football is more popular than ever. Given the sport's paramount place in American mass culture and the billions of dollars involved, major reform feels a long way off.

Some change, however, might be achievable in the short term. Making sure players are wearing helmets correctly can help prevent concussions. And education at the high school level, specifically making parents aware of the risks of playing and the slim odds of going pro, could help protect children from injury when their brains are most vulnerable and build a constituency for change from the ground up.

Randle El told the Post-Gazette that he's ultimately pessimistic that the game can be changed in a way that makes it more safe.

Randle El speaks at a pep rally before Super Bowl XLV. Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images.

"There’s no correcting it. There’s no helmet that’s going to correct it. There’s no teaching that’s going to correct it. It just comes down to it’s a physically violent game. Football players are in a car wreck every week," Randle El told the paper.

While that may or may not be true, with any luck, getting the word out about football's frequently devastating impact on former players will ensure that parents and young people considering a football career at least know the risks before they become reality.

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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Did you know that the simple act of smiling can trick your brain into feeling better, improve your health, and even help you live longer? It's true. Science says.

If you're looking for a reason to smile, here are ten of them.

1. The way this grandma says, "I'm so happy to see you!"

A young woman shared that her grandma always comes to check on her when she hasn't come out of her room for a while. "You want some food???" This is just too wholesome. Watch the whole thing.


2. These two geese were mesmerized by a man playing harmonica in a Taipei park.

Qiqi and Fanfan are into it, y'all. Listen to them try to join in a few times.

3. Ryan Reynolds and a special guest singing six-part harmony? Yes, please.

The Grace Kelly TikTok challenge had people singing the chorus to Mika's 2007 song "Grace Kelly" with various harmonies. I won't give away the cameo here, in case you haven't seen it yet. So fun. Read more about it here.

4. This dad knew his daughter was a prankster, and yet she managed to trick him anyway.

Aryanna's got skills. Dad knows she's got skills. The way he immediately looks all around for traps and still gets surprised. That grin on her face, too. So dang funny. Read the full story here.

5. Norm MacDonald's heartwarming advice to a fan who lost his mother.

The iconic comedian's passing at 61 came as a surprise, but his advice for how to handle grief is a lesson for us all: "Take all the love you have for her, Pablo, and give it freely to all that you meet. Your mom will look down upon you, happy and proud."

6. A Portland cat cafe reopened, and all the cats up for adoption got homes in less than a day.

First of all, the cafe is called Purrington's. I mean, come on. Second of all, it's a cafe where you can hang out with cats that need homes, which is awesome. The cafe had hit some snags in recent years with COVID restrictions and whatnot, but on the day of its reopening, every cat got a home. Yay for the kitties. Read the full story here.


7. This is seriously the greatest "walk of shame" I've ever seen.

At first, you're thinking, "Why is that guy walking into a park pond?" Then it's, "Ooooh. I see." Then finally, "OMG that right there is what living life to its fullest looks like."

8. The U.S. is reportedly buying 500 million more vaccines to donate to the rest of the world.

We're all in this together, literally. The only way we're going to get the pandemic under control is to make sure everyone has access to COVID vaccines. The need is great, but we're stepping up to help meet it. Love to see the U.S. taking leadership on this front.

Read the full story here.

Photo by Mat Napo on Unsplash


9. New Zealand firefighters offer a Haka to honor the first responders who perished on 9/11.

Okay, this one might make you smile and cry at the same time. Such a beautiful offering and reminder of how connected we all are.

10. Watch this street photographer help an elderly Italian woman see her own beauty.

Dino Serrao's TikTok channel is the place to go when you want to be reminded of the unique beauty in every human being. All of his videos are great, but this one is so heartwarming. Their interaction is so sweet, but her recognizing her own gorgeousness after initially telling him she didn't want her picture taken is just wonderful.


I hope that brought a little joy and hope into your day! Come back to Upworthy again next Friday for ten more reasons to smile. :)