I stay cool, and dig all jive,That's the way I stay alive.My motto, as I live and learn,Is dig and be dug in return.
-- Langston Hughes
GLENDALE, Ariz. Rashard Mendenhall doesnt bat an eye when explaining how he shifts between a no-frills, introspective life without television or high-speed Wi-Fi to the cacophony of the NFL.
Im a Gemini, so maybe that has something to do with it, he said, laughing. I live in extremes. I can be the life of the party, or you can not notice Im there.
It would be easy and convenient to slide Mendenhall neatly into the NFL player stereotype. He has obvious talents that helped him top 900 yards three times with Pittsburgh. Hes had his tiffs with coaches, like last year when Steelers coach Mike Tomlin suspended him a game for failing to show up at Heinz Field after being told he would not dress for a game against San Diego. And he sparked controversy on Twitter in 2011 by questioning why people were celebrating Osama bin Ladens death.
But unlike some athletes who dont think before they Tweet, Mendenhall knew exactly what he was saying and writing. Hes had a lot of practice.
In his blissfully clear, reposed, stress-free, and almost entirely at peace new apartment in the Valley, Mendenhall takes great joy in writing. He submits a semi-regular blog to the Huffington Post, he writes poetry that remains mostly private and he devours literature, poetry, history and spiritual writings.
"This controversial statement was something I said in response to the amount of joy I saw in the event of a murder," he later said in a blog entry of his original bin Laden tweet. "I don't believe that this is an issue of politics or American pride; but one of religion, morality and human ethics."
In that reasoned response comes a glimpse of a man who defies simple labels.
Rashards a deep dude, said Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who coached Mendenhall for four seasons in Pittsburgh. He gets you thinking about stuff we dont normally talk about here on the football field.
Mendenhalls passion for writing developed imperceptibly while he attended the University of Illinois.
Id go places like the performing arts building, which had a really cool balcony, late at night, and Id sit there and write, he said. I didnt even realize it was happening -- that this was the start, or the foundation of my spirituality and peace but writing in general is a peaceful place for me. Ill always write.
In the NFL, everything is fast and there is so much going on. For me, its important to keep a balance. I like to slow things down and get away from all of that so I can deal with the pace of the world.
Mendenhalls favorite poet is famed African-American writer Langston Hughes and his favorite topic is spirituality, whether its Buddhism, Islam or his own faith, Christianity.
While Mendenhall was in Pittsburgh, the Steelers held their training camp at St. Vincent College where Mendenhall met Paul Taylor, now the executive vice president of the Catholic college. The two struck up a friendship that endures today. Mendenhall credits Taylor and former teammate Troy Polamalu (who is Greek Orthodox) with teaching him to live simply and balanced and clear.
Ive learned a lot from different faiths, studied a lot of history and religions, from Buddhish to Islam to learn what people believe, he said. Personally, I believe in God and I follow Jesus Christ, but all of these things have their place, and conceptsfrom different religions carry over.
In his most recent blog for the Huffington Post, Mendenhall writes of being able to breathe in the air of a completely new place and leave all things that are behind me, exactly where they belong.
That includes whatever baggage others may believe he carries, and whatever trials he has experienced in his life.
He doesnt talk about the past, Cardinals running backs coach Stump Mitchell said. Hes here in Arizona now, with Bruce, and he feels as if hes come home. These coaches know him and he knows them.
Mendenhall is being counted on heavily to revive a long dormant Cardinal running game -- especially with Ryan Williams nursing a sore right knee and three inexperienced backs behind him. Playing on a one-year contract, Mendenhall knows this chapter in his life could be short, but so far, hes embracing that challenge -- on every level.
I appreciate being here. I appreciate this opportunity. I think this is a peaceful place, he said. Pittsburgh was great and cool for that time, but that time was kind of over in my life.
Being here, it feels like theres a freedom and a lightness in my life again.
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