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Applauding Mendenhall's wise decision

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  • Former Illinois star Rashard Mendenhall, here dragging the Packers' Pat Lee into the end zone on an 8-yard touchdown run for the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, has decided there are better things in life than "putting his body at risk for the sake of entertainment."

      Former Illinois star Rashard Mendenhall, here dragging the Packers' Pat Lee into the end zone on an 8-yard touchdown run for the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, has decided there are better things in life than "putting his body at risk for the sake of entertainment."
    Associated Press File/Feb. 6, 2011


University of Illinois alumni owe a debt of gratitude to Rashard Mendenhall.

All of us should at least be perceived as more intelligent because of him and our diplomas should be worth more to employers.

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Because as a representative of Illini everywhere, Mendenhall was smart enough to quit the NFL at age 26 after playing six seasons and being paid about $15 million.

Dummies from Northwestern and the rest of the Big Ten and from the Ivy League and from Duke and Vanderbilt and Notre Dame don't do that.

Players from those institutions of midlevel learning do everything possible to get to the NFL and stay in the NFL until the NFL uses them up.

They beat their heads against walls and opponents until they're concussed.

But here's this young man from Illinois being sensible enough to say enough is enough and go do something else with his life.

"I no longer wish to put my body at risk for the sake of entertainment," Mendenhall wrote in the Huffington Post.

I'm always partial to football players who aren't addicted to the game, the fame and the fortune.

Since term limits are a hot political topic in this state, why not extend them to the NFL?

Six years is a reasonable number.

The only concern over Mendenhall's retirement is that he might sit out a year, miss the pain from the pounding and resume being an NFL running back in 2015.

Let's hope not.

Jim Brown probably had football's best retirement by walking away on top after nine seasons. Michael Jordan would have had sports' best if he stayed retired after one of his first two goodbyes.

Though not as decorated as those two guys, Mendenhall's retirement ranks up there if only because it came as such a surprise.

"It's disturbing that people are questioning my sanity for giving up the money," Mendenhall wrote. "What does that say about our world?"

Mendenhall played professional football exactly the way it should be played: Make enough money to last a few lifetimes and then escape in one piece.

An Illinois education taught him that good sense, right?

Mendenhall always appeared to be a different sort of athlete. My goodness, the scouting report on him is that he likes to read and write poetry.

Mendenhall was one of the country's best running backs coming out of Niles West and chose to attend Illinois, not exactly one of the country's best football programs.

The Steelers deactivated Mendenhall for two games for fumbling and he didn't report for the second. After Osama bin Laden was killed, Mendenhall chided Americans for celebrating the death of another human being.

Different indeed.

Retiring after a mere six seasons while still at an NFL player's prime age and with more cash waiting, well, that sure isn't conventional football behavior either.

Mendenhall wasn't on a Hall-of-Fame course, but his combination of size and speed was enough to earn him one or two more contracts and a few or several more million dollars.

But Mendenhall did what more NFL players should: He got out while the getting was good.

Mendenhall mentioned in his retirement essay a litany of benefits he received from playing the game -- including "two Super Bowls" and "a bunch of money" -- before the sport quit being fun.

I can't say that I know Rashard Mendenhall, but I followed his career because he was a suburban product and an Illini athlete.

Mendenhall was a football player for sure but didn't talk like just a football player. Other, perhaps more cerebral, interests were cruising through his mind.

"I look forward to chasing my desires and passions without restriction," Mendenhall wrote.

After walking away from football, maybe Rashard Mendenhall will walk toward something that makes Illinois alums look even smarter.

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