Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Nov. 30. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer.
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Thirty-two Americans were awarded a Rhodes scholarship in 2009, the same number selected in each round of the National Football League draft. The Rhodes and the NFL don't often cross paths but it is in this improbable intersection where my Sportsman nominee resides.
I've been following Myron Rolle's journey for the past couple of years, mostly through the fine work of Pete Thamel in The New York Times, and have found myself breaking the cardinal rule of journalism:
I am rooting for him.
As a Rhodes Scholar, Rolle earned arguably the most prestigious postgraduate academic scholarship in the world, joining the likes of famous alumni such as Bill Bradley, David Souter, and George Stephanopoulos. He bypassed the NFL draft for a year to accept the scholarship, publicly declaring goals of a career in medicine and professional football. At Florida State University, Rolle was a 6-2, 218-pound All-ACC safety for the Seminoles, and is projected as a late first- or second-round NFL draft pick. He finished his undergraduate degree in premed in just two and a half years and plans to open a free health services clinic in Steventon, Exuma, in his native Bahamas, following medical school.
Last week I sent an email to Rolle's representatives, telling them that I was nominating him as my Sportsman of the Year. Rather than write an essay on Rolle through my lens, I wanted people to hear from him. Below, a Q&A with Myron Rolle:
SI.com: What is your definition of a Sportsman?
Rolle: A Sportsman is someone who identifies and routinely practices the true tenets of sport -- discipline, integrity, passion and competition. A Sportsman is a natural servant leader who provides examples of rightness in preparation and execution of his/her sport. Lastly, a Sportsman effortlessly balances his/her sports aptitude with a position as a role model in the local or global community.
SI.com: How you define the term student-athlete?
Rolle: Student-athlete is a term used to describe a person with a keen understanding of how athletics can supplement the primary focus of academia. Student-athletes move fluidly between a permeable boundary of strict studies and rigid sports. Student-athletes also mobilize their celebrity platform to service others.
SI.com: You've said in the past that you wanted to attempt to eliminate the stereotype that jocks can't think, by excelling academically. Can you explain that journey?
Rolle: The journey has been difficult because you are attempting to wither away at the social constructs of 'unintelligent jocks.' My role in this journey has been to continuously ascend to a place of high scholastic and athletic achievement in an effort to reinforce the cerebral athlete idea. That is why the Rhodes Scholarship and, potentially, the NFL are so important to this message. Juxtaposed to this personal journey is one that motivates me to develop promising younger student-athletes to carry the torch into the future
SI.com: Describe what a typical day is like for you at Oxford.
Rolle: I rise at 6:30 a.m. to work out for two and a half hours at the Rugby weight room and pitch. I eat, shower, then walk to my 10 a.m. class. I leave class to return to my graduate accommodations where I prepare a quick meal on the hob. I walk back to class for a 2 p.m. lecture. After that class, I head to the Social and Cultural Anthropology Library to research and note-take for my upcoming essay. I return to my accommodations to meet with my friend to walk to St. Edmund Hall, my college, where we dine at 6:00 p.m. I leave the dining hall and head back home where I mix studying, stretching and social time. I end the day around 11 p.m.
SI.com: How has your experience been intellectually?
Rolle: My experience intellectually has been rewarding. I spend four hours each week with a close friend, and fellow Rhodes Scholar, Aisha Saad, where we engage in thoughtful discourses on topics ranging from gender equality, universal good, relativism, meritocracy and science versus religion. She is a Muslim woman. She is incredibly bright and our exchanges are ones that help each party reassess or affirm original personal belief systems. I am unfiltered with her and I believe these experiences have been the most enriching intellectually.
SI.com: Describe your group of friends at Oxford. Where are they from? What are they studying? How do you spend your time together?
Rolle: I have a Rhodes Scholar community that I interact with often. Chris Joseph (California and St. Edmund Hall) lives next door to me. We actually played against each other in the 2006 Emerald Bowl. We hang out every day. Shad White (Mississippi and St. John's College) is one of my political debate opponents and Abigail Seldin (Pennsylvania and St. Antony's) is a grounded person who keeps me laughing with her sense of humor. I have international friends such as Dave Hille of Australia, Hayden Lindskog of Canada, Natasha Phiri of Zambia and Nick Friedman of South Africa, among others. All of my friends are gifted with exceptional academic ability, but they have fascinating life stories and cultures that make them truly unique and special.
SI.com: How closely are you following the NFL in England?
Rolle: I have visited NFL.com more in the past three months than I ever have in my life. It is my weekly source of NFL information. My father, brother (McKinley), sports agents and friends from Florida all attended the Patriots-Bucs game in London a few weeks back.
SI.com: You have "future NFL Star" listed on your Web site. Why are you confident you'll succeed in the league?
Rolle: I subscribe to the concept that one must believe internally that he will be successful before the moment of opportunity actually surfaces in real-time. I have trained with NFL players such as Santonio Holmes, Fred Taylor, Darren Sharper and James Farrior, who have all indicated that I possess the physical ability to compete at the next level. Samari Rolle, Terrell Buckley and Antrel Rolle routinely tell me that I will have a more productive NFL career than a college one. Yes, I have never played an NFL snap, but I do give credence to the insights derived from All-Pro veterans.
SI.com: What kind of services do you envision being offered by the Exuma Health Clinic?
Rolle: I envision the Exuma Health Clinic providing a high quality facility equipped with modern medical devices, necessary physical space, and an adjacent rehabilitation center to service the people of the island. The first priority of the clinic will be assisting the medical professionals that currently exist in Exuma with the pressing health demands of the local community, which include diabetes, hypertension and other emerging cardiovascular diseases.
SI.com: How did most people in athletics react when you told them you were going to bypass the draft for Oxford?
Rolle: I have received an abundance of support from fellow athletes. At last year's Super Bowl in Tampa, I crossed paths with several former Florida State players, including Greg Jones, Ernie Sims, Travis Johnson, Bryant McFadden and Chris Hope, who all said they were very proud of me for what I have accomplished as a student. Furthermore, as I was walking from the Phillips Arena after an Atlanta Hawks basketball game, I was approached by a man that shook my hand and said, "Congratulations, Myron. You have made all of us smile." I realized 10 seconds after this exchange that the man was former Heisman Trophy winner and current NFL All-Pro Charles Woodson. It was refreshing to have the respect of those in athletics. It makes my difficult decision feel more right.
SI.com: What do you miss most about the U.S. and why?
Rolle: I miss seeing my family the most. As the youngest of five brothers, I have spent my life listening and absorbing knowledge through osmosis from my brothers and parents. Now, an ocean separates us. But I look at this Rhodes Scholarship and Oxford University opportunity as a way for me to thoroughly invest intellectual capital into my medical anthropology studies while embracing the diverse cultures and resources that surround me. I hope to return to my family a better man.
SI.com: Take me through a day in your life at anytime in the future as you imagine it?
Rolle: As I do not know the specific commitments required of a professional football player or medical physician, I am not certain how a typical day in my life would play. I do know that I envision contributing immediately for an NFL franchise, developing the necessary medical expertise in medical school and most importantly using those blessings and skills to upscale a social inequality in which I am passionate.
SI.com: Who would you choose for Sportsman of the Year if you had a vote?
Rolle: I would cast a vote for Derek Jeter. Jeter humbly acknowledges his personal prowess in baseball while edifying the talents of his teammates. He physically contributes. But more importantly, he psychologically transcends the ideology of his team to one of a 'winner.'