Mendenhall's Farewell To Football Is Profound
If you haven't heard by now, former Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals RB Rashard Mendenhall is retiring from the NFL at the age of 26. Rather than hold a press conference or release a statement, Mendenhall decided to use his passion of writing to tell his story in a piece on HuffingtonPost.com (if you haven't read it yet, it's worth it).
Mendenhall was made in a different mold than today's modern NFL player. First of all, he's not afraid to speak his mind, as his Twitter was often the source for many controversial statements, including his infamous rant on celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden, as well as his role in 9/11. While many may strongly disagree with Mendehall's opinions (including myself), he was not afraid to speak his mind — something which he has the right to as an American, and something he should be admired for due to the scrutiny he probably knew he'd face.
Even in his retirement piece, Mendenhall goes against the grain. Rather than saying his body has failed him or he has lost the will to play like most players, he explains how the game of football has simply changed. The notion of players fighting together for wins, and players being judged on the little things such as blitz-pickups as well as stats are long over in his eyes. He notes how the NFL has become a league full of entertainers where "the camera follows the most popular players on the team" and "skill of players is measured solely in stats and fantasy points". Rather than sacrificing his body for entertainment, Mendenhall is going out on his own terms to pursue a life of meaning after football. Mendenhall discusses his desire to write, travel, and ability to retire "feeling as good as I did when I stepped in" as part of why he is looking to walk away from football.
Mendenhall also discusses the internet and its role in the negativity surrounding his career. Doing his best to avoid them, negative comments still would reach his family and friends, which would make their way back to him. These comments he felt would ultimately go on to define his legacy as a player. They "shaped the perception of you: the brand, the athlete, and the person". It's not a surprise between his views on the NFL shifting from a sport to an entertainment industry, as well as fighting through the hate and negativity, that Mendenhall wants to pursue a life after football.
At 26 without a major amount of tread on his tires, Mendenhall has the ability to go and pursue a life the average person won't be able to do today until their sixties. While many players struggle to leave the game in their thirties and get out once it's too late for their body or mind, he should be commended for going out on his own terms to pursue a life beyond football full of dreams and aspirations, as opposed to the typical network or analyst job that most players seem to be grabbing after retirement. Many may not like Mendenhall due to his outspokenness, his views, or his beliefs, but it's refreshing to see a player point out an issue that seems to be an unspoken issue with not only the NFL but sports in general. Unfortunately for him, the struggles he faced and the issues he discussed in the NFL won't be going away anytime soon.