Rashard Mendenhall retires at age 26

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Arizona running back Rashard Mendenhall has chosen to hang up his cleats at the age of 26. He explained why he made his decision in a post yesterday on his blog over at Huffington Post. Let’s break down what he said and figure out why he did this.

From the blog:

I decided not to hold a press conference because I didn’t want to have to say things that were cliché. I’ve done enough of that since I’ve been playing football. I actually didn’t really plan on saying anything about my retirement at all. 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.”

This tells me his head wasn’t in the game anymore and it seems like his heart wasn’t either. It seems unusual that he wanted to “disappear.”

He mentions his previous post which started all of the speculation about a potential retirement.

That intense journey described my personal life in the NFL. Journeying through those waters symbolized living 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. 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’. 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. If not first-hand, then through friends and loved ones who take to heart all that they read and hear. 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!

Well, the public eye is always on you as an athlete nowadays. Social media has made this into the animal it has been. Athletes have always been under scrutiny. The difference now is that there are cameras everywhere. Any little thing you say or do can and will be broadcast to the world faster than you can say “Hut, hut hike!” The internet has let people hide behind screen names and anonymity to spew forth hatred and pure rudeness that they would almost never say to your face. If we didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al, I don’t think those issues would exist.

The NFL itself has evolved into a 24/7/365 sport and being part of that as an athlete means you also have to be on your best behavior 24/7/365 too. It’s certainly a lot of scrutiny when the media is willing to report some of the things it does. ESPN wrote an article about how Joe Flacco of the Balitmore Ravens celebrated signing his massive contract by going to McDonalds and ordering chicken nuggets.

Imagine how the media would have reacted to Lawrence Taylor reportedly sending prostitutes to the rooms of opposing players the night before games.

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.

This is something we can all understand. We’ve all seen the stories of former NFL players having to deal with poor physical conditions as a result of their years in the game. We’ve seen the recent emergence of chronic traumatic encephalopahty (CTE) and how it has greatly impacted the lives of former players. Some of them have committed suicide as a result of the chronic repeated blows to the head.

He can still have memories of when he played the game stuck in his mind. He won’t be relegated to watching them on video tape and hoping he can recognize himself. Mendenhall will have to battle something tougher than the defenses of the NFC West now.

He has to battle with life after football. A lot of people have their identities wrapped up in their jobs and Mendenhall’s identity will change. If you don’t think it happens, what has Beanie Wells been doing while he didn’t play in the NFL in 2013? He was trying to make a comeback but an Achilles injury derailed his chances.

We’ll see what Mendenhall does now that he’s done with football.

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