Smith writes book to demystify sports, celebrity

Updated: July 14, 2004, 7:42 PM ET
Associated Press

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.

Robert Smith
Smith

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."

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.

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."


    Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press