From NFL Player To Neurosurgeon: 'Why Can't I Do Both?'
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We will soon crown the latest NBA champion and in honor of that, we'll continue our series of conversations Across the Generations with father and son ballers Rick and Canyon Barry. They'll tell you why they tune out the haters and remain true to the underhand free throw. That's coming up.
But first football and the brain. And when I said that I bet your mind went to all the recent stories about brain trauma and America's most watched sport. But I'm actually talking about a former NFL player who is now training to become a neurosurgeon. Myron Rolle played at Florida State then after taking a brief detour to enjoy his Rhodes scholarship, he played for the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Last week, though, he graduated from Florida State University's College of Medicine. And next month, he will head to Harvard Medical School to start his residency in neurosurgery. And Dr. Myron Rolle is with us now from Orlando, Fla. Dr. Rolle, welcome. Congratulations to you.
MYRON ROLLE: Thank you very much for having me.
MARTIN: Now, you know I have to ask you when you were growing up when you were a little boy what did you want to be?
ROLLE: I actually wanted to be a neurosurgeon, believe it or not. I - also a football player, but my brother Marchant gave me this book, "Gifted Hands" by Ben Carson and put him in front of my face as somebody who looked like me, came from a similar background as me.
And as I got older, I started to learn more about neurosurgery, the brain and how it functions. And it just piqued my interest even more. And I'm glad that I am starting this journey soon and going to join the likes of someone like Dr. Carson.
MARTIN: You know, it's funny because a lot of kids if you ask them they say - well, what do you want to be when they grow up? They'll say I want to be a baseball player and a veterinarian. You know? When people say that people, you know, generally laugh and pat them on the head and go, yeah, that's cute. But did people do that to you? I mean, did you ever doubt that you could actually do both?
ROLLE: No. I honestly - I never had a doubt. And I cannot take the credit. I give that to my parents. You know, we came from the islands of the Bahamas, and I left there when I was very young, ended up moving to New Jersey. And in New Jersey, my parents were prophesied to my brothers and I and speak and hardwire into our minds that just because we come from a small country, just because we have dark skin, just because we don't have a lot of money does not mean that we cannot accomplish our goals in this country that has an abundancy (ph) of resources.
We have to develop our firm foundation of education. We have to believe in ourselves. We have to be good citizens, good leaders, stay true to our Christian principles, and these things could happen for us. So they poured the confidence in me, and I walked out of my house in New Jersey every morning thinking, yeah, why not? Why can't I do both? Why can't I do all things? Once I had that firm belief, it gave me, you know, the initiative to kind of go and pursue those things with all veracity.
MARTIN: I want to go back to your days as an undergrad at Florida State where you faced a difficult decision. You know, first there was your interview for the Rhodes scholarship and that - for people who, you know, this is a highly competitive award. It's very prestigious.
People may know that, you know, Bill Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar, Cory Booker was a Rhodes, Susan Rice. So first, the interview conflicted with a game that you were scheduled to play in, and then you knew that if you did win the award that it could interfere with your chance of being a first-round draft pick in the NFL. There had to have been people talking in your ear saying you're crazy, you know.
ROLLE: Oh, yes.
MARTIN: You get your money, and I just wondered how did you decide what to do?
ROLLE: You're right. It was an absolutely hard decision, very, very difficult. I had been playing football since I was 6. And I chose Florida State University because I wanted to get to the NFL. That school had a pedigree of putting players into the National Football League, and I had two cousins who played in the NFL. And my daddy started the Commonwealth American Football League back home in the Bahamas, so, you know, it was - all roads were leading towards playing professional football.
And then, as you said, I was projected as a first-round draft pick. But the Rhodes committee - I - I'll be completely frank with you. I asked them if I could postpone my Oxford experience for a little bit and go to the NFL first, and then go back to Oxford. They said no. So that made it - OK, you either take the Rhodes scholarship now or you lose it forever. I prayed about the decision. I talked to my family, but I think what really helped me make that decision was talking to young people actually, young people who looked at my story and said that they drew inspiration from it.
And the fact that I was up for something so prestigious that was academic based, it kind of gave them, you know, the motivation to pursue knowledge and to, you know, try to go for their degrees and things like that. So the fact that I was placed in this position of being a role model for young people by choosing academics and that Oxford experience over the fast money and the early draft pick in the NFL, that was big for me. So I did it. I made the decision, and I don't regret it today.
MARTIN: Do you see yourself as having some opportunity to be influential in the issues that are so present in the NFL right now and, frankly, in the minds of the public? Frankly, some people are wondering whether it's still ethical to be a football fan, knowing what we know about the impact of the sport on players, particularly something as consequential as brain trauma. Do you see yourself having a role in this discussion?
ROLLE: Yes, I do actually. You know, I think that I can potentially have a very strong voice in this coming from the athletic side and now from the scientific side. But neurosurgeons are doing a lot of work in it already. There are some neurosurgeons out of Stanford that are looking at some type of concussions based on the predominant symptoms - is a cognitive decline? Is at equilibrium problems? Is it ocular motor issues? Is it anxiety or depression?
And once you can kind of categorize concussions based on those symptoms, then you could have a more targeted therapy, and then there's neuroscientists, neurologists looking at the pathophysiology of concussions and then social psychologists looking at the failure to report and physicists looking at the circular or linear rotations. So there are a lot of people taking a bite out of this issue and trying to preserve this game that I love and that we all love.
I want the game to stay, and I want it to be safe. I want it to still exist because it's done so much for me. It's giving me tools that I'm using now in the operating room learning how to mitigate pressure, communicating, strategizing - all these things that I did every day on the field in the weight room, I do now as a physician. So it's a powerful sport. And, like you said, I just definitely hope to have a voice in it and keep it around.
MARTIN: That's Dr. Myron Rolle, former NFL player. He's about to start his residency in neurosurgery at Harvard Medical School, and he was kind enough to join us from Orlando. Dr. Rolle, thank you so much for speaking with us.
ROLLE: Thank you very much for having me. I really do appreciate this.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.