Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall has announced his shock retirement at the age of 26 to pursue a career in writing.
RASHARD Mendenhall made millions as a star running back in the NFL. But he had enough of the “hate” and risking his life for the sake of entertainment.
Today, he quit the game at just 26 years old.
In a revealing column in the Huffington Post, Mendenhall – who spent last season with the Arizona Cardinals – provided an intriguing insight into the mindset of a professional American football player in an era where long-term brain injuries have become a critical issue and an athlete’s status is judged more on his fantasy points than what he produces on the field.
‘I WANTED TO DISAPPEAR’
Mendenhall decided not to hold a press conference to announce his retirement, saying he did not want to say the sort of clichés he’d been pulling out throughout his career.
“I actually didn’t really plan on saying anything about my retirement at all,” Mendenhall wrote.
“I just kind of wanted to disappear. The fact that I was done playing would’ve been clear once some time had passed, and I hadn’t signed back with the Cardinals or any other team.
“Maybe people would’ve thought I couldn’t get another job. Either way, I was okay with the idea of fading to black, and my legacy becoming, ‘What ever happened to that dude Rashard Mendenhall? He was pretty good for a few years, then he just vanished.’”
IAN ROBERTS: RUGBY LEAGUE GAVE ME BRAIN DAMAGE
Former Australia prop Ian Roberts’ revelation that he has brain damage is further proof that rugby league is more damaging than first thought.
‘SO MUCH HATE’
A victim of ongoing racism, Mendenhall said the intense pressure and scrutiny on a leading player in one of the biggest sporting league’s in the world took its toll. Mendenhall struggled to “live a private life in the public eye”.
“Imagine having a job where you’re always on duty, and can never fully relax or you just may drown,” he wrote.
“Having to fight through waves and currents of praise and criticism, but mostly hate.
“I can’t even count how many times I’ve been called a ‘dumb n*gger’.
“There is a bold coarseness you receive from non-supporters that seems to only exist on the internet. However, even if you try to avoid these things completely – because I’ve tried – somehow they still reach you.
‘WHY RISK MY LIFE FOR ENTERTAINMENT?’
Mendenhall found it difficult to grasp the idea of sport as entertainment and certainly did not want to put his life on the line for the cause.
“I am not an entertainer. I never have been. Playing that role was never easy for me,” he wrote.
Brain damage in sport is becoming a growing issue, also impacting the Australian codes with the latest being former NRL star Ian Roberts revealing rugby league has left him with long-lasting health issues.
“When they ask me why I want to leave the NFL at the age of 26, I tell them that I’ve greatly enjoyed my time, but I no longer wish to put my body at risk for the sake of entertainment,” Mendenhall wrote.
“I think about the rest of my life and I want to live it with much quality. And physically, I am grateful that I can walk away feeling as good as I did when I stepped into it.”
‘FOOTBALL CULTURE HAS CHANGED’
Mendenhall’s older brother is a high school football coach.
One day he called Mendenhall and said, “These kids don’t want to work hard. All they wanna do is look cool, celebrate after plays, and get more followers on Instagram.”
Mendenhall told him they might actually have it figured out.
“The culture of football now is very different from the one I grew up with. When I came up, teammates fought together for wins and got respect for the fight,” he wrote.
“The player who gave the ball to the referee after a touchdown was commended; the one who played through injury was tough … and the story of the game was told through the tape, and not the stats alone. That was my model of football.
“Today, game-day cameras follow the most popular players on teams; guys who dance after touchdowns are extolled on Dancing With the Starters … and success and failure for skill players is measured solely in stats and fantasy points.”
‘I WANT TO TRAVEL AND WRITE’
You could never call Mendenhall a jock. He is an avid reader and enjoys dance, art and writing poetry.
He also made headlines after criticising the American public for celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden, but said at the time his aim was to “generate conversation” rather than stir up controversy.
“The truth is, I don’t really think my walking away is that big of deal,” Mendenhall wrote today.
“For me it’s saying, ‘Football was pretty cool, but I don’t want to play anymore. I want to travel the world and write!’
“However as I told the people around me that I wasn’t planning on signing again, there was a surprising amount of shock and bewilderment.”
‘I FEEL LIKE I’VE DONE IT ALL’
Mendenhall leaves the game with no regrets.
In six years in the NFL – five of them with the Pittsburgh Steelers – he reached the Super Bowl twice and won a championship ring in 2009.
“I’m thankful that I can walk away at this time and smile over my six years in the NFL, and 17 total seasons of football – dating back to when I started pee-wee ball at Niles West in 1997, when I was 10. These experiences are all a part of me, and will remain in my heart no matter what I do, or where I go.”