Former NFL safety and Rhodes Scholar-turned-future-neurosurgeon, Myron Rolle, has never been average. With surgical precision, he’s carefully carved out every step to achieve his life’s goals, and continues to shatter the antiquated “dumb jock” trope with each accomplishment — including his upcoming graduation on May 20 from medical school at Florida State University and beginning residency at Massachusetts General Hospital on July 1.
Committed to also saving lives outside of the operating room, the proud Bahamian-American who grew up in Galloway Township, NJ, uses his gift of service to enrich the lives of disenfranchised youth in Florida and the Bahamas through his Myron L. Rolle Foundation.
The dynamic scholar-athlete sat down with TheSportstyle.com in collaboration with SET Magazine for an exclusive two-part interview. In this first part, he shares everything from the adversity he faced in the NFL to whether or not medicine has interrupted his love life.
Let’s take it back to your NFL playing days. GMs and coaches essentially shut you out because they didn’t think you were serious about football due to your academic life outside of the game. However, a lot of these same GMs and coaches routinely gave opportunities to guys whose off-field behavior was deplorable, to say the least. What are your thoughts on that?
The NFL is used to a certain type of athlete, who comes from a certain type of background, and, perhaps, fits a certain type of mold for them. Anything that’s different or challenges the norm is uncomfortable: change is difficult for people.
That had to be extremely frustrating.
As great of a game as it is, and amazing as it is, the same people recycle through the coaching staff personnel, so there’s not a lot of diversity in thought. Once one methodology works, then other teams and organizations adopt that same thing or something similar and go with it.
To see somebody who traveled to Congo and Rwanda with President Clinton’s sponsored group CGI [Clinton Global Initiative], or wants to be a neurosurgeon, or has his own foundation, these kind of things are different for them. I guess they were a little nervous or not as adept to dealing with a person with aspirations outside of football. I was told straight to my face — and this is the absolute truth — that I was as good or better than other players, but those players needed the sport and had no other options. They told me I could go on to be president of the United States or a neurosurgeon and that they weren’t worried about me: my future was fine. But the other guy really needs it.
Wow. That’s unreal.
To me, that’s not telling me I didn’t have the talent to play, it’s telling me the other options might’ve made them hesitant because they thought I would get up and leave if things got hard. When I heard that from the front office person who told me that, I knew I might need to move into medicine because I wasn’t sure if it was worth me continuously knocking my head over. At that point, I had already had two concussions in my career and my hands were still good. I knew I wanted to be a neurosurgeon, so mixing all of those factors together all lead me to the point of stepping away, taking the MCAT, going to medical school, and now, on my way to becoming a neurosurgeon.
Do you think you’d still be playing if you didn’t receive such pushback?
Yes, I think I’d still be playing. Or on my way out.
What kind of work goes into becoming a neurosurgeon, and what command does it take on your schedule? I’m sure it comes with a lot of sacrifices.
There are a lot of sacrifices, but I would give credit to my rearing early in life. I think my parents and my four older brothers all played a roll in helping me develop habits and routines that would behoove me.
What I mean by that is, as a young person, I had a breadth of activities that I would involve myself in: football, basketball, baseball, track, and volleyball. I also played saxophone, was in the school band, wrote for the school newspaper, was involved in student government, and active in church. I was always very busy. I think having all of those activities to balance created in me a set plan to attack my day and to make sure I was always efficient with my time.
Neurosurgery requires a lot of time, not only to study but to actually perform. Then there’s patient care that you need to do as well, along with keeping yourself physically and spiritually fit. I do a really good job, I think, of allotting the appropriate time to do these things.
How do you set up your day?
I work out and pray in the morning, then go study. If I have a break in between cases or patients, I’ll study some more and take a break after to talk to my family or friends. That way I’m able to remove some of the stress that sometimes medicine can bring on your life. Once I’m done with work, I’m just done with work. I kick back and relax and watch something briefly on tv or reconnect with a friend that can help center and balance me. I think it’s all about having balance and being centered.
You credited Dr. Ben Carson’s book, Gifted Hands, as a source of inspiration early on in your desire to become a neurosurgeon. How does it feel knowing you’ll be the example some young person will model their behavior after? It must be humbling.
It’s truly humbling. A nurse asked me recently if I ever get tired of people noticing me and wanting to take pictures, but it makes me feel like the sacrifices my parents made, and people’s names who I know and don’t know did not go in vain. The fact that my life can be used as an inspiration for someone, as I’ve used others’ lives, like Ben Carson and Paul Robeson, it’s a special thing. It also lets me know that this life is not just all about me. I can’t be as self-centered and aggrandizing. If I can provide that for someone else, whether it be here in America, or back home in the Bahamas or anywhere in the world, it’s a huge thing and I don’t take it lightly.
As a proud Bahamian who joins the conglomerate of sports ambassadors from your country such as NBA player Buddy Hield of the Sacramento Kings and former Laker Rick Fox, how great is it representing your nation on and off the field?
It’s a big deal. I came over to this country when I was very young to Galloway and I go back home every summer. We’re the only family here in the states, aside from [NFL veteran] Samari [Rolle] and a couple of others, but it just feels like a great responsibility and an honorable one to uplift a very small, but very proud nation in sports, and other aspects of my life. That’s why, whenever I have an opportunity to speak in public — whether it’s in interviews or through articles or speeches — I always mention the homeland of the Bahamas. We’re small in number and in size, but there’s so much power that comes from that place.
There’s just some fantastic things that maybe people just don’t see on the surface when they go to Atlantis and Paradise Island or at a tourist destination. There’s creativity, culture, and a religious force down there. There’s also engineers and thinkers. The musicians are fantastic. People on the outer islands and the family island of Exuma, where my grandparents are from, have created ingenious ways to live longer, healthier, and happier. It’s an amazing place, so when I go, I feel at home. I feel at peace. To get away from some of the stress that comes in life — and doing life in this fashion — escaping to the Bahamas and eating peas and rice and cracked conch is a good way to be with family.
Speaking of Bahamas, how incredible is it that you’re on a stamp in your country? I mean, when most people think of the faces on a stamp, it’s usually a deceased pioneer or a national monument. How do you feel about the honor?
I’m very, very proud. My parents were very proud, too. When the announcement was made, our prime minister and our deputy prime minister were both there, along with our minister of transport and aviation. All the country was watching it, and it was broadcast on our national broadcasting channel. They were all there to celebrate the three Rhodes Scholars who were going to be placed on the stamp. It was kind of my re-introduction to the country. I’ve been going to the Bahamas my whole life, but there’s a lot of people, who, if you didn’t play sports, or didn’t listen to sports, they wouldn’t know the name, Myron Rolle.
After I was placed on the stamp, the whole country started to figure out who I was, even if they weren’t a sports fan. That was a big deal, and I’m very proud of it. I tell my friends from America, whenever they go to the Bahamas, send some mail home and use my stamp. [Laughs]
You mentioned you watch a little bit of television in your downtime. Do you ever watch Greys Anatomy?
I do not, but I’ve heard a lot about it. I hear everybody is hooking up with everybody, and it’s more of a drama.
Which I hear is what happens in residency because folks spend so much time around each other.
You know, it’s funny because most of my mentors who are neurosurgeons met their significant others in the hospital. Their partners are either a physical therapist, a nurse, a scrub tech — or they’re always meeting somebody in the hospital. People will say to me, “Myron, you’re going to meet a nurse up there in Boston.” They are predicting it and putting it onto my life already, but I don’t know. Who knows what God has in store for me.
So does this means you’re not seeing anyone right now?
I’m currently single.
Is that one of the sacrifices you had to make for your career?
I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a sacrifice, I just think I’m very selective and I’m not in a rush. I feel like as long as I keep moving in the right direction in my career and spiritual life, along with the philanthropy of my foundation, then opportunities will present themselves and I’ll meet someone who fits with me. That’s important.
In the past, I dated people who were great on paper, and maybe they thought I was incredible on paper, too, but then when we got around each other, we weren’t equally yolked. The fit wasn’t there.
I know my life and situation is complex, and I think it takes a special person to understand that. There’s a lot of attention that goes with this and a lot of time away in the hospital. I’ll see my co-residents, attendings, patients and my nurses more than I would see my significant other. Somebody who is able to understand that is important.
It’s a process to it and I’m not rushing. I think it will happen, and when it does, I’ll make sure my mother checks them out to give them the thumbs up.
Exactly, no one knows you better than mom. I imagine you want to be a dad. Is fatherhood also something you aspire for?
Oh, yeah. I want a huge family, but it obviously takes to people to do this.
For sure. You’d be a trailblazer to pull that off on your own.[Laughs] For sure.
You always seem to be 10 steps ahead of where you want to be in life. What’s the next great thing for Myron Rolle?
Honestly, I want to be an expert and a leader in this field. I want to be one of those neurosurgeons that people read about and people say, “He has this great fund of knowledge in neurosurgery and in neurological diseases. He’s a great technical physician, but he also is a healer in the world and he has a global reach and impact.”
I want to accomplish those things because I think this science of neurosurgery is fantastic, and because I’m so passionate about it, and have been passionate about it for a long time, that maybe I can be part of some amazing discovery that really moves the field forward and help many people.
Also, expanding my foundation to have a much broader reach than just Florida and the Bahamas. Maybe other parts of the Caribbean or Sub-Saharan Africa, and even South America; places that are low-to-minimum-income parts of the world, where young people may feel disenfranchised or without hope and I can provide that hope. I also want to help them to rediscover their dream or ability to dream. That’s what I’m thinking right now. God willing.
Myron’s incredible life has been motivated by his faith, family, philanthropy, and football, all of which have set him up to achieve everything he’s worked hard for. Be sure to keep up him here, and read Part 2 of our interview here, where Myron describes the parallels between preparing for a life in the NFL and medicine to his tips for “turning up” at the Junkanoo parade in The Bahamas.
Photos: Courtesy of Myron Rolle/Instagram