The recent Rashard Mendenhall retirement announcement brought me back to college. One of the hardest football decisions I ever had to make came during my red-shirt sophomore year at Findlay. In order to graduate on time I needed to take an English class that was only offered during the same time as football practice.
As if it wasn’t hard enough to be a poem-writing tight-end at a football school, I was a poem-writing tight-end missing practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Needless to say I wasn’t seeing much playing time for that coach, but I understood and thought my playing time was fair that year considering the situation.
I’ll never forget the conversation with the coach at the time. He’s no longer at the school and didn’t last long in that position, but before moving on, he spent plenty of time telling me what kind of player I was. He said something about me being a poor teammate and afraid to do the right thing for the team. To which I replied by hanging my head and just wanting to get the hell out of his office with a little dignity.
The response I offered him was that in order to graduate on time I would have to take this class, at this time, or stay another semester because this class was a requirement for my major. He didn’t seem to care much about my major. But then again, reading and writing poetry is not for everyone. One has to appreciate these things in order to understand them. What I understood though even then, was who I was. I was a pretty decent football player but I was also a passionate writer, assistant editor of The Envoy and team player off the field in my writing groups. I was a writer as much as I was a football player.
The irony here is that my professors were my biggest fans on the field, did everything they could to be supportive of our team and generally just cared about me as a person. Rather than argue this point about equally being a writer and football player, I channeled it, and that sequence of events changed my mindset about writing. It motivated me to be a better writer and it gave me a reassuring sense of confidence that I was doing what was right.
I mean, this was college right? — Higher education; preparing for life’s journey through curriculum application and character development… Maybe at Alabama or Miami, football players do not miss practices for English class. Of course classes are offered more frequently to prevent that from occurring.
At the end of the day, college is about experiences, choices, getting an education and growing. I learned during that time; what is popular is not always easy. But more than anything, what I learned was having balance to my life was imperative.
When I read of Mendenhall’s retirement, I thought to myself, there is a true professional. Someone who has figured it out; someone on our team.