Former Viking promotes autobiography at Coffman

Bryce Haugen

As the most prolific running back in Minnesota Vikings history, Robert Smith spent eight years in the sports limelight. He returned to the Twin Cities on Wednesday, but this time it wasn’t to play football.

Smith was in town to promote his new book, “The Rest of the Iceberg: An Insider’s View on the World of Sport and Celebrity.” He spoke to a crowd of approximately 100 at Coffman Union’s Great Hall.

“It’s about changing the way people think about the world, to not just take it at face value,” he said after the noon book signing.

In the first part of the book, Smith provides an autobiographical account of the life of an athlete elevated to stardom at an early age. In the second part, the former Ohio State standout focuses on how athletes are demonized by the public when it comes to money, race and crime.

At 32, Smith is younger than most retired professional athletes. He surprised the sports world in February 2001 by quitting in his prime, after a career littered with injuries.

“My long-term health is important to me, and I’ve never taken it for granted,” he said.

So when doctors warned Smith that he might someday be unable to walk if he continued playing, he knew it was time to pursue other interests, he said.

Once retired, Smith acted on an interest he’d had since college: writing a book. After literary agents he approached refused to send his manuscript to their publishers, he published it himself through Inkwater Press, a print-on-demand publishing company.

“Anybody can get published now Ö stop thinking about it and start doing it,” he said. “You learn a lot about yourself.”

In addition to promoting his book throughout Minnesota and his home state of Ohio, Smith is spending his retirement working for an Ohio software company. He owns 20 percent of the company, which deals with “all aspects of health care.”

Once interested in studying medicine, Smith said increasing health-care availability has always been a passion of his.

“(The company’s) a way for me to make a difference,” he said. “Football was just a means to an end for me.”

Carlson School of Management senior Bill Siitari said he likes Smith’s style.

“He’s not your stereotypical athlete,” he said. “There’s more to him than football.”

Siitari was one of dozens of students who waited in line to meet Smith and get their books signed.

According to Hattie Webb, Smith’s publicist, book sales have been “excellent,” though she said exact numbers weren’t available.

The book tour continues at 11:30 a.m. today at the Block E Borders Bookstore in downtown Minneapolis.