Rashard Mendenhall, the Arizona Cardinals running back, has retired from the NFL at the age of 26. Deciding against a press conference to "avoid saying things that were cliché", he took to the Huffington Post to lay out his reasons for ending his career after just six years as a professional.
Highlights of the blog post include:
"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.
"Imagine having a job where you’re always on duty, and can never fully relax or you just may drown. 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 nigger’... I’m not a terribly sensitive person, so this stuff never really bothered me. That was until I realized that it actually had an impact my career. Over my career, I would learn that everything people say behind these computer and smartphones actually shape the perception of you — the brand, the athlete and the person. Go figure!
He also criticised the modern trend of valuing matters of public image higher than traditional, manly tenets of the game:
"When I came up, teammates fought together for wins and got respect for the fight. The player who gave the ball to the referee after a touchdown was commended; the one who played through injury was tough; the role of the blocking tight end was acknowledged; running backs who picked up blitzing linebackers showed heart; 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'; games are analyzed and brought to fans without any use of coaches tape... This is a very different model of football than the one I grew up with. My older brother coaches football at the high-school and youth level. One day he called me 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!' I told him that they might actually have it figured out.
The post contained some Joey Barton-esque references to his non-athletic interests, and how they are supposed to make him unsuitable to being just another career athlete.
"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... I've always been a professional. But I am not an entertainer. I never have been. Playing that role was never easy for me. The box deemed for professional athletes is a very small box. My wings spread a lot further than the acceptable athletic stereotypes and conformity was never a strong point of mine. My focus has always been on becoming a better me, not a second-rate somebody else. Sometimes I would suffer because of it, but every time I learned a lesson from it. And I'll carry those lessons with me for the rest of my life."
Initially drafted by the Steelers in 2008 from the University of Illinois, Mendenhall remained in Pittsburgh until 2012. His early retirement is not his first controversial incident - in 2011 he reacted to the death of Osama bin Laden by criticising the public jubilation that resulted in the States, as well as calling into question the true nature of the September 11 attacks. He tweeted:
"What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side…
“We’ll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take down a skyscraper demolition style”.
Unsurprisingly, those comments provoked a predictably vitriolic online repsonse, and the Steelers organisation was forced to distance themselves from the comments.
Read Mendenhall's Huffington Post blog entry in full here.