Myron Rolle is ready to take his game from the football field to the operating table. Those precious hands — renowned for making interceptions — will be wielding scalpels and forceps on the human brain.
Rolle, the former Florida State All-American safety and Rhodes Scholar, was accepted into the Harvard Medical School neurosurgery program at Massachusetts General Hospital and will begin his residency in Boston in June, a month after he graduates from the FSU College of Medicine.
Rolle compared last week’s Match Day to NFL Draft night, except that waiting to find out where he’ll spend the next seven years of his career was more nerve-wracking.
“There were lots of emotions rolling through my body while counting down the hours, waiting to open that envelope,” he said. “I felt much more anxious than I did during the draft.”
The soon-to-be Dr. Rolle, 30, is thrilled to embark on the next chapter of a life already defined by remarkable accomplishments.
Neurosurgery is a new challenge with each case. The preparation, the discipline, the technical skills and the need to perform at your very best under pressure provide the same adrenaline rush I had in football.
Myron Rolle, former All-American football player at Florida State University, who will be starting a neurosurgery residency through Harvard Medical School in June
“Neurosurgery is a new challenge with each case,” Rolle said. “The preparation, the discipline, the technical skills and the need to perform at your very best under pressure provide the same adrenaline rush I had in football.”
In Boston, a center of concussion research, Rolle will get to be on the cutting edge of traumatic brain injury treatment. Harvard has partnered with the NFL Players Association on “The Football Players Health Study.”
“I can provide a credible voice for the concussion and TBI [traumatic brain injury] movement,” said Rolle, who self-diagnosed two separate concussions during practices in college — but continued his workout. “I’d hate to see the game I love go away because it is considered too dangerous and parents are scared to allow their kids to play.”
Rolle is also looking forward to working at Boston Children’s Hospital. He’s interested in pediatric neurosurgery, with his ultimate goal building clinics in underserved parts of the world, such as Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, including his native Bahamas. When he was at Oxford studying medical anthropology as a Rhodes Scholar, he traveled to Burkina Faso in West Africa to examine why villagers relied more on the local shaman than the local doctor.
Rolle, who has assisted on more than 200 surgeries, had a moment of epiphany when he recently assisted in removing a tumor from a child’s brain.
“I loved making big plays but this was another level of euphoria,” he said. “You have a chance to save lives. I knew this was my calling. The smile didn’t leave my face until I fell asleep that night.”
Rolle, who had 80 college football scholarship offers when he was in high school in New Jersey, interviewed with 14 schools for his residency. All asked about football’s connection to his medical career.
“They asked me what it would be like for an ex-football star to start at the bottom, to have sixth-year residents telling me to go see a patient at 2 a.m.,” he said. “I responded that as a freshman in Tallahassee, I had seniors telling me to carry their helmets or fetch water. As an NFL rookie, I had to buy meals for older guys. I appreciate hierarchy. I understand teamwork.”
Medical school came sooner than Rolle planned. He had hoped for a longer, more successful NFL career but it was over after three seasons, never getting a chance to play in a regular season game.
Coaches treated him differently and may have underestimated him because of his intellectual side, he said.
“They’d be telling another player about Cover 2 and then asking me, ‘Oh, how was it with President Clinton in Rwanda?’” Rolle said of a visit to Africa with Bill Clinton. “I just saw myself as a football player who worked as hard as everybody else.”
The pre-draft interviews in 2010 were even more odd, and Rolle’s decision to graduate early and spend what would have been his senior year as a Rhodes Scholar probably hurt his status. Originally projected as a second-round pick, he fell to the sixth round.
“They asked, ‘Did you abandon your FSU team by going to Oxford?’” he said. “I found that an absurd question when my teammates and coaches had been so supportive.”
Rolle, who played for the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers, left the league wondering if he got a fair shot or if coaches harbored disdain for his Renaissance Man reputation.
“When I was released they told me, ‘You’re playing well and you have the talent to be in the NFL for eight years but you don’t need this as much as the other guy. You can go on and be president of the United States. You’ll be fine.’”
He’s thankful he left the NFL with his faculties and hands intact.
“I spent three weeks lamenting, ruminating and praying because football had been part of my life since age 6,” he said. “Then I moved on. I’m glad I always had another clear plan. Several of my FSU teammates did not and do not. It’s hard to leave a sport that is embedded in you.”
Rolle was intrigued by the brain from a young age. He read voraciously about the nervous system and tapped into computer programs where he could take apart the lobes.
His older brother gave him a copy of Ben Carson’s book “Gifted Hands.” He had pictures of Carson and Deion Sanders, former Seminole star and Pro Football Hall of Famer, on his bedroom wall.
Carson, President Donald Trump’s new secretary of Housing and Urban Development and former GOP presidential candidate, was a pioneering pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He became a mentor to Rolle in 2009, when they went to church together. Since then they’ve played golf and pool and had long conversations about life.
“When I asked him for advice, the first thing he said was, ‘Always be nice to the lunch ladies and janitors because they matter, too,’” Rolle said.
Care for those less fortunate inspired Rolle to create his own foundation in 2009. He holds annual summer camps for foster children in Florida and the Bahamas. He sponsors an anti-obesity program for kids.
Rolle’s roots are in the Bahamas and before he starts his residency he’s hoping he can have a meal of cracked conch, peas and rice, macaroni and cheese and Goombay punch at his favorite restaurant, Oh Andros in Nassau. He’s a favorite son in the Bahamas, where his image was placed on a 2013 postage stamp for the country’s 40th independence anniversary.
Rolle’s mother Beverly flew to Houston to give birth to him so he could be a U.S. citizen. When he was 2, his family moved to Galloway Township, New Jersey.
“I grew up in Jersey, where nobody knew what conch was,” he said.
Rolle also has relatives in Miami, including former football-playing cousins Antrel and Samari Rolle. Billy Rolle, the football coach who has won state titles at Killian, Northwestern and last fall at Southridge, is related on his father Whitney’s side.
“When I’m working up in Boston,” he said, “It will be nice to know I can make an occasional escape to Miami.”