NFL star quits at 26 out of safety fears

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Former Arizona Cardinals running back Rashard Mendenhall has revealed his reasons behind his decision to retire from NFL at the tender age of 26.

His decision to walk away from his £1.2m-a-year deal - and the sport - has shocked his friends and family, as well as general NFL followers.

However, Mendenhall revealed all in a column for the Huffington Post, and says protecting his health was a key factor behind his final decision.

He wrote: "Over my career, because of my interests in dance, art and literature, my very calm demeanour, and my apparent lack of interest in sporting events on my Twitter page, people in the sporting world have sometimes questioned whether or not I love the game of football. I do. I always have. I am an athlete and a competitor.

"But I am not an entertainer. 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.

"I no longer wish to put my body at risk for the sake of entertainment. I think about the rest of my life and I want to live it with much quality."

The ex-Pittsburgh Steelers star spent six years in the NFL, winning a championship ring in 2009.

However, Mendenhall revealed that during that time he has suffered personal abuse, which may have also played a contributory role in his decision to retire.

"Imagine having a job where you're always on duty, and can never fully relax or you just may drown," he added.

"Having to fight through waves and currents of praise and criticism, but mostly hate. I can't even count how many times I've been called a 'dumb n****r'. There is a bold coarseness you receive from non-supporters that seems to only exist on the internet. However, even if you try to avoid these things completely - because I've tried - somehow they still reach you."

It remains to be seen whether more players follow in Mendenhall's footsteps and retire at an early age. But the pressures placed on high-profile stars is clearly intense and should not be underestimated.

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Pittsburgh Steelers
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