Rashard Jamal Mendenhall was a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers and in 2010 he was at the top of his game.
But, four years later, when he was at the pinnacle of his career, Rashard made a decision to hang up his jersey and retire from the game at the age of 26! This shocked everyone in the NFL and no one could understand what would prompt him to do it. But, once Rashard explained the underlying reasons, it all made sense…
Who Is Rashard Jamal Mendenhall?
Rashard grew up in Illinois, and much of his young life included playing football- starting with pee-wee ball at the ripe age of 10. Rashard attended Niles West High School and then went on to college at the University of Illinois, where he majored in sports management. Rashard excelled in football throughout college and in 2008, he received the call he had been waiting for.
The Pittsburgh Steelers wanted Rashard and he wound up being drafted 23rd overall in the 2008 NFL Draft. On July 25, 2008, Rashard agreed to a five-year contract worth $12.55 million, with $7.125 million of that money guaranteed. Rashard’s childhood dream of playing in the NFL had finally come true, but he knew the hard work had just begun…
After giving his all in the Steeler’s first two preseason games, Rashard fumbled in the third game against Minnesota and his teammates were not happy. One of them left a note on Rashard’s locker saying: “Take his ball away and get $100 from him.” Call it friendly locker room competition, or what have you, but Rashard became determined as ever to prove everyone he was worthy of a spot on the Steelers.
His Big Break
Rashard wound up entering the 2008 regular season as the Steeler’s youngest player: He took on return duties, in addition to his running back position. But in the fourth week of the season, Pro-Bowl running back Willie Parker suffered an injury which allowed Rashard to make his first NFL debut…
Unfortunately, Rashard was forced to leave the game with a fractured shoulder in the third quarter after a hit by Baltimore Ravens linebacker, Ray Lewis. Rashard was placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season. This devastated him.
After he recovered, Rashard jump-started his NFL career by rushing for 165 yards and two touchdowns in week 4 of the 2009 season. His 2010 season proved to be even more impressive when he helped lead the Steelers back to the Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers. Unfortunately, they wound up losing when Rashard fumbled- yet another blow to his ego…
Fighting To Stay In The Game
The 2011 season was a difficult one for him, when he only rushed for over 100 yards two times in 15 games. Things got worse, however, in 2012, when Rashard had to leave the last regular season game against the Cleveland Browns due to a knee injury. It was soon discovered he tore his ACL and he was placed on the IR list. Sadly, most athletes deal with injuries like this one, but being the fighter he is, Rashard refused to give up the game.
Then, in December 2012, he was suspended by the Steelers organization for a game against the Dallas Cowboys for not showing up to a game against the San Diego Chargers because he was deactivated due to inconsistent play. This left Rashard a free agent…
Fast forward to 2013, Rashard was back on his feet when he signed a one-year contract worth $2.5 million with the Arizona Cardinals. After playing for the Cardinals for one year, in March 2014, at the age of 26, Rashard retired from the NFL but didn’t hold a press conference to explain himself.
Fans were left confused, but Rashard later said that he didn’t want to have to say things that were cliche and that he’s done enough of that during his football career. He didn’t plan on saying anything about his retirement at all, and he kind of just wanted to disappear…
Rashard figured his fans would get the picture once he hadn’t played for a while and wasn’t signing back with the Cardinals or any other team. He thought people would have thought he got another job and was moving on. “I was ok 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.”
The truth was, Rashard didn’t think his walking away was a big deal. But, others disagreed, wondering why he would stop now at only 26 years old! Why would he walk away from millions of dollars? Fans wondered if Rashard’s knee was fully healed…
Accepting His Retirement
After NFL fans realized Rashard wasn’t kidding, they still couldn’t understand why. But, Rashard said that while he enjoyed his time in the NFL, there were a lot of things he didn’t like about being a football player. First off, a life in the public eye was not easy.
Living In The Public Eye
“Imagine having a job where you’re always on duty, and can never fully relax…I had to fight my way through praise and criticism, but mostly hate.” Rashard recalls the many times he was called names he wouldn’t repeat to his worst enemy…
“I can’t even count how many times I’ve been called a ‘dumb nig***.” Those very words devastated him and pushing them out of his mind became very difficult. As strong as Rashard is, those hateful words caught up to him. “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.”
What Football Is Like Today
What was even more difficult for him, was accepting what football has become now, compared to what it used to be. “Today, game-day cameras follow the most popular players on teams… Guys who dance after touchdowns are asked to be on Dancing With the Starters…Success and failure for skill players is measured solely in stats and fantasy points.”
One day Rashad’s older brother who coaches football at the high-school and youth level called him up and said: “These kids don’t want to work hard. All they want to do it look cool, celebrate after plays, and get more followers on Instagram!” Rashard told him these kids may actually have it figured out…
Was Football Really For Rashard?
Over his career, because of his interests in the arts, his very calm demeanor, and his lack of interest in sporting events on his Twitter page, people in the sporting world questioned whether or not Rashard loved the game of football.
But, he always did. “I am an athlete and a competitor… But I am not an entertainer… I never have been.” Rashard’s focus has always been on becoming a better version of himself, not a second-rate somebody else, and sometimes he would suffer because of it.
“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.” Now, Rashard plans to live his life in a way that he never has before. For his plan going forward, he wants to chase his desires and he is starting with writing.