I am currently reading the book "Their Life's Work" by Gary Pomerantz. It is a fantastic read, and I would recommend it to any Steelers fan who hasn't yet read it to do so. The title of the books refers to a phrase oft used by the legendary Steelers coach of the 70's Chuck Noll, a phrase he would say to ageing veterans, players in their prime and rookies alike.
"perhaps it is time to be getting on with your life's work"
For the players, this was a dreaded saying, one they believed indicated they were not long for the chopping block. For Noll however, it was a way to remind his players that there was more to life, far more than playing football. Football constituted but a small part of who they were and what they did, and "their life's work" represented what they would go on to do for the remainder of their lives once the small window of Professional football had passed, and to Noll the latter was by far the more important of the two.
There are many stories, horror stories even, of ex-NFL players struggling to adapt to lives after football, of being unable to cope outside the regimented structure that an NFL team provides,of missing the cheers and adoration of screaming fans, and some struggle to cope with the incredible trauma they have put their bodies through for the sake of playing football.
This will not be the case for Rashard Mendenhall, who via an article in the Huffington post Sunday night, detailed why he has decided to retire at the age of 26, why he has decided to get on with "his life's work".
He covers many things in his article. Some of it represents a collective middle finger raise to the institution of the NFL and the culture that currently exists around it.
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; practice non-participants are reported throughout the week for predicted fantasy value; and success and failure for skill players is measured solely in stats and fantasy points. This is a very different model of football than the one I grew up with.
But for the most part, it is an admission that for Mendenhall, football has only ever been a small part of who he is, and what he wants to do. It may be somewhat of a surprise that a seemingly healthy, young and talented man would walk away from a game that he loves, especially when it promises to pay him handsomely for his efforts. But, says Mendenhall, being an NFL player severely limits what you can do in your life.
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...
My wings spread a lot further than the acceptable athletic stereotypes and conformity was never a strong point of mine.
Mendenhall also touches on the fact that walking away now helps to ensure he will not suffer any of the debilitating conditions that a long career in the NFL has sadly caused for some. This is a reality that all players, especially in today's more informed world, must face at some point.
So what will he do now? well apparently writing appears to be the first thing on his bucket list, and why not considering he does appear to have a particular flair for it.
At 26, with a full, healthy life ahead of him, Mendenhall has decided to leave the grind on his own terms, recognising there is more to life than running a ball past a couple of pylons, recognising that his "life's work" still lies ahead of him, and it is time to get on with it.
I certainly have a lot of respect for Mendenhall's decision, and I can't help but think if it were ever to come to his attention Chuck Noll would be impressed as well.