Former NFL running back Rashard Mendenhall is back in the news once again as his latest post on Huffington Post details just how unhappy he was during his playing days and how he has struggled with that ever since.
Mendenhall, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft out of Illinois, stated that he suffered emotional and verbal abuse from coaches and fans during his playing days and that it continues to affect him now in his post-football life.
“Even in moments of encouragement, I couldn’t understand why the harsh criticisms had such lasting effects,” Mendenhall writes. “In my life I was so used to being berated by coaches and fans, who would then turn around and expect me to score the game-winning touchdown, that I became conditioned to withstand what I later learned was emotional abuse. I never took into account that not everyone is conditioned to be calloused. I struggle everyday to learn how to communicate in a way that inspires change, without destroying confidence.”
Even though Mendenhall now appears to have a successful career as a Hollywood writer and director, he admits that “the transition from football to life-after isn’t easy.”
“In retirement, I’ve realized the merit athletes build over a lifetime is false,” he writes. “Everything you do professionally is forgotten when your career ends. After being praised for your ability since little league, it’s tough to find self-worth when you’re no longer “the man”. Many people you thought were friends disappear when the home games and parties end.”
Mendenhall goes on to say that the one season he played with the Arizona Cardinals with head coach Bruce Arians was his “most enjoyable year of playing in the NFL.” That is a pretty unique revelation being as Arians was the Steelers offensive coordinator for most of the time Mendehall was in Pittsburgh.
I’m sure that Mendenhall isn’t the only former professional athlete who has struggled with getting on with their life’s work after leaving the bright lights. That’s why it’s very important for every athlete to have a plan in place way before being paid to play. While they might not like it, hard coaching and fan criticism comes with the territory of being a sports professional. Sports careers have their ups and downs and sooner or later all of them come to an end. Most sooner rather than later.
Mendenhall ends his post with a message to other players.
“To the players that have struggled to find a fulfilling life apart from the game, keep fighting. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone. The struggle is real for each one of us. But just like on that field, we’ll find a way. We always have. We always do.”
The late Chuck Noll always tried to prepare his players for life after football during his years as the Steelers head coach and the message he gave all of his players still resonates with them all these years later.
“‘Football is not your life. We have to get you ready for your life’s work,'” Tony Dungy once quoted Noll as saying. “That taught me something. (Football) was going to be temporary and it was going to be fleeting, as much energy as we put into it … how were you going to react as a family man? How were you going to be as husband? How were you going to be as younger person in the community? How are you going to prepare yourself for life after football?”
Needless to say, Mendenhall probably wishes he had played for Noll even though he would have likely been coached even harder than he was during his six years in the NFL.