I can imagine scores — no, millions — of people sitting back and telling Rashard Mendenhall what a fool he is, at 26, to walk away from the millions he can make as a running back in the NFL.
Mendenhall has more miles left in his body, and he certainly could have banked several more seven-figure paychecks. But he doesn’t want the dollars; he wants to keep his body from having to endure another season’s worth of high-impact collisions.
For him, life is about the long term, not the short.
"I think about the rest of my life and I want to live it with much quality," he said in a commentary piece for HuffingtonPost.com. "And physically, I am grateful that I can walk away feeling as good as I did when I stepped into it."
Walk away from the dollars?
I have heard enough tearful tales about an athlete who waited too long to come to terms with his tomorrows. Mendenhall, however, will not be one of those athletes.
For in him, I see a man unwilling to live totally in the moment; he sees a vibrant life after the cheering stops, a life where he can walk without a limp or crutches, a life where his head isn’t ringing like a church bell and a life where he’s not popping painkillers as if they were Skittles.
In my younger years, I looked at boxing as the hurt business, not football. I would see broken men like … well, we all know the names; they are the who’s who of the fight trade. Yet how many of these splendid athletes, who thrilled us with their skills inside the ring, do we want to trade places with?
Sugar Ray Leonard?
I think about how sleek and elegant they used to be in their younger years and how decrepit they are these days, their words mumbled, if they can say much at all, because of the damage their brains suffered.
Football players are no better, and I know that from all I’ve read about men who took one tackle too many and from what I’ve seen when they limp into the public spotlight in their twilight years. They are flesh-and-blood reminders of how brutal football is.
None of their agony and hurt has been lost on Mendenhall, a man who twice rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a season. For him, six seasons were plenty enough. He decided to pack up his shoulder pads and helmet and find something less taxing on his body to do for a paycheck.
"As for the question of what will I do now, with an entire life in front of me?" he wrote the other day. "I say to that, I will LIVE! 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."
And I know Rashard Mendenhall will live a happier life. His life will be absent the agonizing nights of pain that have wrecked the lives of too many professional football players in the years after they stopped hearing the cheers.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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Follow Justice B. Hill on Twitter: @jbernardh
(Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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