The Curious case of Rashard Mendenhall

The NFL free agency period opened up with a bang today. Within an hour, players like Lamaar Houston, Donte Whitner and Jarius Byrd all found new homes. While DeMarcus Ware, Julius Peppers and Darren Sproles look for new ones.

Arguably the person who has the least to worry about is (former) Running back Rashard Mendenhall, that is because he has decided to retire, at the age of 26.

You’re lying if you saw this coming. It’s unprecedented to see any football player, especially at Mendenhall’s caliber to retire completely healthy and have no exterior problems off the field that we know of. A man in the prime of his already successful career by most standards, decides to hang up the cleats, but why?

In an interview with Huffington Post who released the story, Mendenhall explains that, ” 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…”

Plenty of players would die for the chance to play in those two Super Bowls let alone the success Mendenhall enjoyed. But that

Mendenhall finished his career with over 4,000 yards rushing and 37 Touchdowns in his 7 year career.
Mendenhall finished his career with over 4,000 yards rushing and 37 Touchdowns in his 7 year career.

seems far too cliche. Sure everyone wants to call it a career and retire while on top, but what is Mendenhall’s motivation to leave it all behind him?

First off, I am a fan of this. Hell, if you tell me I’m retiring at 26, I’d be the happiest man in the world. My mother and father, the two hardest working people I know would be too. Isn’t the point of working, is to make enough money to spend it all on the things you love to do like travel and see the world?

So if you were a millionaire in the most popular league in North America, had it all and done it all, wouldn’t you call it quits too? That’s why I find this decision so intriguing and feel happy for Mendenhall. Not because I was a fan of the teams he played on (Steelers and Cardinals) in fact I rooted against him. It’s because Mendenhall realizes that there is life after football and at some point, you’re going to have to live without it.

Professional athletes from a young age, are wired to be the best at their craft. We hear the term, “Best in the game” or “Greatest of all time” thrown around quite a bit. Kids grow up playing sports idolizing the best players in the game and want to live that superstar lifestyle that less than 1% of those athletes get to live. Think LeBron, Brady, and Jeter.

Mendenhall, for a change, realizes he is human. Football is a grueling sport. Your body gets beaten up pretty quickly as a running back in the NFL, and he didn’t think it was worth it to put his body on the line for another two or three years and a couple more million dollars that aren’t guaranteed.

Instead, Mendenhall, who finds himself as a relatively laid back guy, doesn’t take himself too seriously and not worried about people wondering where he went after retiring from the NFL, will be living the life he wants to live stating, ” 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.”

Far too many times do we see athletes try to make a comeback that inevitably ends in a bad way. Brett Favre should have retired after leaving Green Bay, but decided to play another three years with the Jets and Vikings. Michael Jordan came back to play with the Wizards, something we all wish never happened. And even in today’s league, Peyton Manning continues to risk having his neck disabled every time he goes out there in order to solidify himself as one of the all-time great Quarterback’s and win another championship.

Athlete’s are hungry, they want to be the best at what they do. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be professionals. Which makes Mendenhall so different and unique. He took the road far less traveled in professional sports whose careers weren’t cut short by injuries.

A superstar at the University of Illinois, drafted by the Steelers in the first round of the 2008 draft, been to the Super Bowl and a productive NFL running back, Rashard Mendenhall is walking off into the sunset to pursue other interests like dance, art and literature. And if you ask him, he is perfectly OK with that.

Here’s to you Rashard, because they’re plenty of us out there who’d like to retire a millionaire at 26, too.



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