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Smith writes book to demystify sports, celebrity

7/14/2004 - Minnesota Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS -- Robert Smith was the NFC's top rusher in 2000
with more than 1,500 yards. The Minnesota Vikings came within a
game of the Super Bowl for the second time in three years. He was
28, a free agent-to-be at the height of his earning power.

And just like that, Smith walked away from professional
football.

He caught the Vikings and their fans by surprise, but maybe it
wasn't such a shock. Hardly a typical NFL star, Smith sat out his
sophomore season at Ohio State in 1991 to focus on schoolwork. Now
he'd rather read about astronomy or head to the orchestra hall than
sit down and watch a game.

Smith was rarely seen or heard from since he quit, but he has
resurfaced this summer to talk about his soon-to-be-available
autobiography, "The Rest of the Iceberg: An Insider's View on the
World of Sport and Celebrity."

Though the book sheds some light on his sudden retirement, Smith
uses it as a soap box -- pleading for a lessened importance placed
by Americans on sports and athletes.

"There's no way to escape it," Smith said in an interview this
week from his home in Columbus, Ohio. "Just the level of attention
you get really can be embarrassing, and it's frustrating, too, when
you realize there are so many other people who have more important
jobs.

"Our society needs to stop focusing on athletes as role models
or as being heroes."

Smith began working on the book while on vacation in Australia
in December 2002, and his girlfriend has helped him edit it under
100,000 words. He has an agreement with a publisher, Inkwater
Press, to print the book on demand possibly as soon as late next
week. Plans are to promote it at Vikings training camp on Aug. 10.

Smith's interests and intellect certainly stood out in the macho
world of pro sports. Fascinating to some, condescending to others,
Smith was undeniably unique.

"Meetings, films, chalkboards, practice -- it all became very
tedious for me," he writes in excerpts of the book provided to The
Associated Press. "I had never been a big fan of football, and to
have to spend all that time preparing to play a game really started
to wear on me. It was like being caught in a remedial math class
each week."

He broaches a variety of subjects in the book, including race,
education, media and, of course, his football career:

  • A pallbearer at Korey Stringer's funeral, Smith writes about
    the grief upon learning his former college and pro teammate had
    died of heatstroke.

    "I sat there on the stairs crying for 20 minutes. I didn't know
    what to do next."

  • Smith acknowledges conflict with teammates Cris Carter and
    Randy Moss.

    "It sounds funny for a man of 32 to say, but Randy's just part
    of a different generation. He walks around with a chip on his
    shoulder and often times doesn't respect authority. It's one of the
    unfortunate possible side effects of the hip-hop culture."

    In the interview, however, Smith scoffed at speculation that he
    retired because of Moss' attitude.

    "He is a young kid with a big mouth, but he's a great player
    and somebody that's been overwhelmed with his position and his
    stature," Smith said. "It's such a ridiculous idea that I quit
    because of him. I wouldn't have had to play there. I was a free
    agent."

  • Smith details his final appearance, a 41-0 loss to the New
    York Giants in the NFC championship game. Asked about it this week,
    he said, "It was a great week of practice. It seemed like a great
    game plan, but you can't game plan for people's heart."

    Though he briefly considered a comeback after Stringer died in
    August 2001, Smith said his mind was made up about leaving the game
    well before that embarrassing loss to the Giants. He pondered
    joining former coach Dennis Green's staff in Arizona, but he said
    finishing the book was a higher priority.

    One day, he would like to do some coaching at the high school
    level, and his disappointment with the educational system could
    lead him to run for school board. Though medical school is no
    longer on his radar, he's part owner of a software company that
    manages healthcare networks.

    He keeps in touch with a few former teammates, but he rarely
    pays attention to the NFL. He's more concerned about getting people
    to look past the tip of the iceberg -- hence the book's title.

    "They'd rather take the shortcut and take what you hear and
    believe at face value," Smith said. "It's easy to do, but it can
    be very misleading."