What if I told you that former Pittsburgh Steelers running back (no, you wish it was Jerome Bettis) Rashard Mendenhall was a prime fixture in creating the lavish and invigorating screenplay that took flight right before before America’s very eyes on Sunday night in the form of HBO’s pilot for Ballers?
Amazing, I know. Rashard Mendenhall. The 1st round draft pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers who WON a Super Bowl ring as a rookie in 2008, before being moved to the Arizona Cardinals where he played until 2014.
The same crazy-talented athlete from the University of Illinois who walked away from the NFL last year at 26-years-old (having made a modest $13.8 million) is now grinding out some of the ideas fueling HBO’s eccentric new series starring Dwayne Johnson as Spencer Strassmore, a newly retired player venturing into the world of sports agency and representation.
If the pilot was any indication, Ballers is aimed to be a sensationalized yet introspective look into how business is done in today’s NFL, with a no-holding-back, candid view of what the life can be like for an athlete, using a similar scope on par with how Entourage portrayed the lives of A-list actors and their associates for eight seasons and a feature film.
Mendenhall was recently interviewed by USA Today’s Lindsay H. Jones about his new writing role, where he draws on his own backfield experience and the NFL lifestyle he walked away from, to provide some of the intricate framework behind some stellar, Sunday-night television.
Writing has just always been a passion for Rashard.
I’ve always known I wanted to write. It was always a passion of mine — it was peace, a getaway. It was also, even while I was playing, it was kind of an artist mentality. You have a day job, but the art that you’re working on is what you really want to do. While I was playing football, it was like I always had known that I would play til it was complete, but apart from that, I always wrote and developed my writing. I knew that when I was done playing, that’s what I was going to do. It was kind of always a thing behind (football), I just didn’t know what to what extent in television or see how it was going to shape up. … I jumped right into something, and it was really cool and enjoyable, because writing was something that I always enjoyed and coincidentally (the HBO show) had to do with football — something that I loved. It was a really natural and cool and beautiful thing to be a part of.
And he was beyond excited when he finally received his Writer’s Guild of America card.
I was really excited when I got my card. It was like, “Wow, I’m legit.” You need a certain amount of work to be part of the union, a certain amount of weeks working on a show. I think it was six or nine weeks for partial membership, and 14 weeks for full membership. Given my opportunity, initially it felt like a tryout, you know? It was like a training camp or something because initially they wanted to feel me out. Initially my contract was for three weeks. At that time, I just thought maybe it would be a cool experience. But in those three weeks, it was clear it was something that I could grow in, something I could do and the guys in that room were like, “You’re good at this, you’re really talented and you need to stick with this.”
As far as the rest of his writing career and any future involvement with Ballers, well, it sounds like Rashard Mendenhall has a pretty good grasp on where he’s going with it all. He shared with Jones a really bright outlook on everything.
That’s the thing, I’m always kind of ironing out and shaping it, always having a plan. It would be great to be back on the show, so I’ll find that out soon. But other than that, I’m still putting together my collection of expressions. I still want to get that published and continue to write on Huff Post. For me, the thing I am passionate about is writing and there are all kind of forms that speak to me. That’s my plan, and that’s who I am outside of football.
Better yet, he’s feeling 100% physically, which not all players are lucky enough to say after walking away from several years playing in the grueling NFL.
I feel great physically. I don’t have any aches. It’s so easy to like, bend down and grab DVDs from under the TV, things like that. It is really easy to move around, so physically I feel great. The one thing that I do miss is that, with that level of training, physically feeling like a superhero. Feeling that you can run as fast as a car, or that I could jump off a big building. You feel like you can do anything, and now to not feel like that, that’s the one thing I do miss. I know that after a year off, with not doing as much, I know going forward I want to treat my body well and train my body to an extent where I can still have that feeling without having to push it or test it to the same extent, but still have the same peace within my body.
Mendenhall also shared some advice for some of the other guys like Jake Locker, Chris Borland, Anthony Smith, Patrick Willis, Anthony Davis, and Jason Worildswho have recently walked away from football, searching for something more.
I would say it’s really about having a plan. That doesn’t mean you need to know what’s going to happen, or how it going to shake out, or how much money it will take. It’s not about knowing what’s going to happen, because you can’t know. But having a plan of knowing what you want to work towards and what steps you’re going to take. For me, my plan was when I was done, I was going to go back to school and get my degree, I was going to go to Northwestern, and then in the meantime, all my personal writings and expressions, I was going to put that collection together and release a book. That was my plan. It was just that along the way, I wrote that piece (his essay about his retirement decision that was published by Huffington Post) and that was a step, and from that piece I got a chance to write television, and it ended up working out. So, for guys I would say you don’t have to know exactly what’s going to happen or how it’s going to shake out, but having a plan, having a direction, I believe things will happen. You’ll find where you need to be as long as you have a direction to go.
And it looks like Mendenhall has done just that.
So far, from what I can tell, Ballers has been met with nothing but praise, with more than 2.16 million people tuning in for the first episode. Every Sunday night watching it from here on out, I’m constantly going to be going, “Did Mendenhall think this up!?”
Here’s hoping they bring you back for the second season, Rashard.
[via USA Today]