In the world of some NFL teams, players who read are dangerous.
Rashard Mendenhall: NFL team was worried about me reading books
By Jordan Heck
Sporting News April 7, 2016
Rashard Mendenhall is a player who retired early (26) mainly because of his interests outside of football. He likes to read, and especially likes to write considering he contributes to the HBO show "Ballers."Coming out of college, teams were concerned about his off-field interests. Speaking to MEL Radio, Mendenhall said teams were worried about him having thoughts that didn't always pertain to football."When I was going through the NFL Combine there was a team that asked me, 'If you have all these other interests — like reading, dancing or art — what makes you a football player?' There is this idea of what a football player is and what he looks like. Especially playing in a place like Pittsburgh, where the Steelers are such a part of the history of the town; the fans live, die and breathe it.
"While I respected that culture totally and knew that I was a part of it, it was tough for me personally. I would tweet a picture of a book that I was reading and there would be people who would write, like, 'Why are you reading books? You should be reading a playbook.' I was like, 'Dang, this is the offseason.' It’s just crazy that like — it was a bit much for me. I felt hemmed in; I wasn’t able to fully be me and express myself, because if I did, people questioned my love of the game. That was always a tough thing for me."
Maybe they were right, considering Mendenhall did retire early, but when he was playing he was all-in. In the three seasons from 2009-11, the running back put up 3,891 combined rushing and receiving yards and scored 30 total touchdowns. If he read a few books during the offseason, who cares? He was a solid contributor on the field when he was there. Host John McDermott pointed out how front offices often complain about players who are out all night at the clubs, but that's not always the reality. Instead, they're worried about someone who has other interests.
"As much as they say, 'We don’t want a guy who’s in trouble, blah, blah, blah,' that guy is familiar to them," Mendenhall said. "He is comfortable to them because they understand him better than a football player who has different interests. A guy with an expanded worldview, now that’s fearful."
What a modern-day Renaissance man.
It's pretty unbelievable that attitudes towards athletes displaying some intellectual prowess are like this! Reminds me of what some (un)wise English teacher colleague said to me when I first became a librarian: "It's unfortunate that you are a jock."
Yes, clearly anyone who dabbles in sports must be an illiterate idiot--and obviously unfit to handle literature. Welcome to Jockbrarian, ma'am. Athletes can and do read!!
The real issue with the Rashard Mendenhall story is the assumption that athletes SHOULDN'T read. Somehow, in a quasi Brave New World scenario, where people are kept stupid so they don't question authority, NFL teams clearly felt that an athlete who was educated and practiced the art of intellectual growth would be a threat to their order. Or maybe it was a time thing. An athlete should have his/her nose in a playbook, not a book book! Did we forget that reading is also a relaxing practice that clears the mind and increases productivity? Have NFL teams been questioning the Xbox gaming habits of their players? Perhaps one athlete's mental decompression comes from FIFA matches, and another's comes from cracking a book.
Whatever way you slice it, I applaud athletes like Rashard Mendenhall who wear their identity as a reader like a badge of honor. This is the message we should be sending our young athletes. As a librarian and coach, I constantly suggest and give athletes books to read. Heck, it's what makes being a jockbrarian fun!!