Though controversial at times in his statements about particular subjects outside of football (specifically the death of Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 attacks, and parallels to the NFL & slavery), I respect the words and the manner in which Rashard Mendenhall chose to end his NFL career. Life is indeed a journey and not a particular destination. TFE is anxious to see where he takes things from here.
- The ability to do something that you know is right or good, even though it is dangerous, frightening, or very difficult
- The ability to face danger, difficulty, uncertainty, or pain without being overcome by fear or being deflected from a chosen course of action
Rashard Jamal Mendenhall, the 23rd pick of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, has called it a career at the age of 26. The Arizona Cardinal running back said (and I paraphrase) along with joyful experiences was an intense journey of living a “private life in the public eye” and thus decided to retire on what could be argued his own terms.
With a record number of college underclassmen clamoring to climb over the top of each other to declare for the 2014 NFL Draft, Mendenhall, a six year NFL veteran wrote that he just “kind of wanted to disappear”. There are those in the media that follow the NFL on a second by second basis that think they have it figured out. ESPN wrote “Mendenhall Sick of NFL Life”. What does that word sick paint a picture of for you?
I never once got the feeling that Rashard was sick of anything. What I read was a young man that had put his football career and life in the proper perspective;
“Honestly, I’ve really enjoyed my time in the NFL and have had tons of fun,” Mendenhall wrote. “I feel like I’ve done it all. I’ve been to two Super Bowls; made a bunch of money; had a lot of success; traveled all over the country and overseas; met some really cool people; made lasting relationships; had the opportunity to give back to causes close to my heart; and have been able to share my experiences and wisdom with friends, family and people all over the world. Not to mention all the fun I had goofing around at work day after day with my teammates! 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.”
He went on to explain;
“Over my career, because of my interests in dance, art and literature, my very calm demeanor, and my apparent lack of interest in sporting events on my Twitter page, people in the sporting world have sometimes questioned whether or not I love the game of football. I do. I always have. I am an athlete and a competitor. The only people who question that are the people who do not see how hard I work and how diligently I prepare to be great — week after week, season after season. I take those things very seriously. I’ve always been a professional.”
Some of the reactions, including the ESPN headline, are what appear to be indicative of Mendenhall’s feelings towards traversing through dark and dangerous waters in the NFL. I’ve advocated since the day I walked out of Dove Valley (the Denver Broncos training complex) that emphasis should be on the overall development of NFL players – that includes life after football.
Rashard Mendenhall gets it in his own way. Professional football is a small thirty-six month crack in the window of life for a very few athletically gifted young men. For some the window widens, but for most it’s nothing more than a peek through the blinds.
“So 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. 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.”
It takes a great deal of courage to walk away from anything. Mendenhall grew up in a football family, his older brother coaches at the high school level. At the ripe old age of 26 he already sees some of the fault lines in today’s athletes and within the culture of professional football. Having been in the industry for 20+ years myself, I commend him for his decision. Too many current and former players, not to mention coaches and front office personnel, can’t look in the mirror and see any semblance of life after the game. They become lost in the journey without a compass and begin to forge down a path of self-destruction. Not so for Mendenhall.
“As for the question of what will I do now, with an entire life in front of me? I say to that, I will LIVE! I plan to live in a way that I never have before, and that is freely, able to fully be me, without the expectation of representing any league, club, shield or city. I do have a plan going forward, but I will admit that I do not know how things will totally shape out. That is the beauty of it! I look forward to chasing my desires and passions without restriction, and to sharing them with anyone who wants to come along with me!”
I encourage all of those that love the game of football to keep things in proper perspective and never grow sick of ANY point in your own personal journey.