Rashard Mendenhall explains his decision to retire from NFL at age 26

Frank Schwab
March 10, 2014
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Running back Rashard Mendenhall #5 of the Illinois Fighting Illini celebrates after scoring the Illini's first touchdown in the third quarter over the USC Trojans in the "Rose Bowl presented by Citi" at the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2008 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

It's fascinating when a NFL player retires in his prime. 

It's hard to imagine, for most of us. To play in the NFL, and make a tremendous living, seems like the pinnacle.

It was, in some ways, for Rashard Mendenhall. The former Steelers and Cardinals running back, who decided to retire after six seasons, said in a piece in the Huffington Post explaining his retirement that he loved playing in the NFL and had "tons of fun." It wasn't a physical issue. He just didn't want to do it anymore, so he walked away at age 26. 

Mendenhall's column is an interesting look at the complex life of a professional player. Mendenhall talked about always being "on duty" representing the league and a team, and the steady stream of criticism and hate players have to deal with. Even if he could avoid it firsthand, his family and friends always seemed to find it, he said.

And the game changed, he said. He makes it seem like he believes the game itself has changed in the 17 years that he played, dating back to youth football, and in many ways it has. His perception just as easily could be the difference between levels of football. The NFL life is much different than college or high school. Either way, Mendenhall saw a big difference and he didn't like it.

"When I came up, teammates fought together for wins and got respect for the fight. The player who gave the ball to the referee after a touchdown was commended; the one who played through injury was tough; the role of the blocking tight end was acknowledged; running backs who picked up blitzing linebackers showed heart; and the story of the game was told through the tape, and not the stats alone. That was my model of football. Today, game-day cameras follow the most popular players on teams; guys who dance after touchdowns are extolled on Dancing With the Starters (sic); 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."

Mendenhall said he never felt comfortable being an entertainer, and no longer wanted "to put my body at risk for the sake of entertainment."

Mendenhall said he has many interests, including writing, which he'll start doing now. Many players keep going in the NFL until teams won't give them a job anymore, and there's nothing wrong with that. It just wasn't what Mendenhall wanted to do.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!