Welcome to the Rashard Mendenhall thinkpiece. In this thinkpiece, we’re gonna talk about the recent retirement of NFL running back Rashard Mendenhall. It’ll be pretty serious, and will attempt to rationalize a somewhat forced argument that caters to some sort of brand-oriented agenda.
A few days ago, the 26 year-old Rashard Mendenhall (born in 1987) announced that he was retiring from the National Football League. People were pretty shocked, because retiring at 26 years old is seems like a negative thing to do — especially for someone like Mendenhall, a two-time Super Bowl champion who was “successful,” made some $$, and presumably had a number of seasons ahead of him. If you need a #postgradlife comparison, Mendenhall had a bright future with the company (The NFL), and could’ve been “a solid asset for years to come.” Barring further injury, Mendenhall certainly would’ve been the type of employee who’d eventually gain a modest corner office — the type of guy who’d go to the company-sponsored happy hours and end up talking to the wide-eyed rookies about what it’s really like working at this place, and how that as long as they didn’t fuck up, they’d be in for a pretty sweet deal. The type of guy who’d say all that and look happy on the surface, but would clearly be hiding some pain behind those eyes. Because those eyes would be lined with a deep-seated misery, the type that would clue you into some sort of greater dissatisfaction. You’d get the feeling that the 33 year-old Mendenhall, your prototypical not-hugely-successful-but-successful-enough-to-have-no-reason-to-complain company man, was not exactly happy.
So instead of marrying himself to the corporate NFL grind, Mendenhall put in his two weeks notice via a very well constructed blog post. The highlights of which, you could read here:
The truth is, I don’t really think my walking away is that big of deal. For me it’s saying, “Football was pretty cool, but I don’t want to play anymore. I want to travel the world and write!” However as I told the people around me that I wasn’t planning on signing again, there was a surprising amount of shock and bewilderment.
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.
As for the question of what will I do now, with an entire life in front of me? 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. I do have a plan going forward, but I will admit that I do not know how things will totally shape out.
Mendenhall, in addition to sounding like a classic 20-something (travel the world and write? You writing a Thought Catalog article, bro?), reminds me a lot of the girl who came up with some sort of app, sold it at the right time, and is now looking into opening a roving food truck. Or the guy worked a bunch of years in finance but then quit to do something he actually wanted to do. The type of people who #grind, get what they want, and then go off do what they want. Basically, overambitious Tom Riddle types minus the supreme evil.
Mendenhall then, very much fits into this boundary-adverse career ideal that feels like a glorified version of The Social Network — an emerging school of thought that doesn’t necessarily look at success as something that’s track oriented, but rather something that’s talent, work-ethic, and personal brand oriented. From reading his post it seems pretty clear that he wants to do him, and use that angle to experience and achieve things elsewhere, whatever that may mean. He’s put himself in a position where he can now pursue things he wants to pursue, all on his terms — the way we’d probably all like to look at careers if we had the means, abilities, drives, and resumes to do so.
So by leaving the NFL, Mendenhall is no different from the guy who spent nights tutoring overprivileged kids in math, enjoyed doing that, and is now looking to open up his own improv comedy venue. Sure it’s a lot more high profile than your friend who just quit his job to move to Austin, but all he’s really doing is undergoing your quintessential, idealized “if I had more than $300 in my savings, I’d do something different” career change. And he’s doing it for the same reasons anyone else would — he’s not looking for structure, and he’s not looking for compromise. And above all that, he’s certainly not looking to be the 34 year-old guy who’s too comfortable to be allowed to regret anything.
Although I’ll miss him on SportsCenter, I very much respect Rashard Mendenhall. He’s well on his way to being the super-millennial the rest of us thought we were gonna be.