Rashard Mendenhall, the NFL running back who played for the Arizona Cardinals last season, has decided to walk away from the league for good at the age of 26.

Rashard Mendenhall Retires

Mendenhall’s retirement had been rumored for the last couple of months, but the athlete hadn’t confirmed the news until Sunday night when he linked to an essay he wrote for the Huffington Post on Twitter.

Within his essay, titled “Why I Retired At 26,” Mendenhall drives home the point that there’s more to life – more to his life – than the game of football. Furthermore, the sport he fell in love with became something both more and less than what it had always been. Being a professional athlete, it seemed to him, now required him to also be an entertainer – something he isn’t.

"I've always been a professional. But I am not an entertainer," Mendenhall wrote. "I never have been. Playing that role was never easy for me. The box deemed for professional athletes is a very small box. My wings spread a lot further than the acceptable athletic stereotypes and conformity was never a strong point of mine."

Mendenhall’s interests are varied, including art, travel and, most of all, writing, which he plans on turning into his next career. The Illinois alum admits he enjoyed his time in the NFL and appreciates the opportunities he had through football, including the money he was able to make. However, he’d rather leave the game now, while he’s still healthy and eager to tackle something new.

Mendenhall Keen To Avoid Serious Injury

“I've greatly enjoyed my time [in the NFL], but I no longer wish to put my body at risk for the sake of entertainment," he wrote. "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.”

Since leaving the NFL on his own terms and announcing it in his own words, Mendenhall has received overwhelming support from those involved in the sport, fans and fellow athletes.

Before playing in the 2013 NFL season with the Arizona Cardinals, Mendenhall played five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was the No. 23 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. As a pro, he racked up 4,236 yards, 1,081 carries and 37 touchdowns. Injuries plagued the talented running back throughout his career.

– Chelsea Regan

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