Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Page 2 [Print without images]

Thursday, January 15, 2009
Updated: January 20, 9:07 AM ET
Choosing a Rhodes Scholarship over the NFL? Now that's admirable

By Jemele Hill
Page 2

I wish I'd seen the Myron Rolle interview in which he expressed his desire to bring specialized medicine to underdeveloped countries as much as I've seen the grainy footage of Adam "Pacman" Jones frequenting yet another strip club.

I wish Rolle's 3.75 grade point average at Florida State was considered as scintillating as the recent rumblings about Terrell Owens, who reportedly might be on his way out of Dallas.

It's not easy to accept the fact that a 75-year-old grandmother in Elkhart, Ind., probably would recognize Jones but wouldn't know Rolle -- the most important story in college football -- from a vacuum salesman.

I'm as guilty as most columnists. I've written twice about O.J., once about T.O., and once about Brett Favre, giving selfish athletes a platform when Rolle has done something so extraordinary it's worth 100 columns.

Even better, Rolle's achievements have nothing to do with how fast the Florida State safety can backpedal, run the 40-yard dash or tackle.

He is a rare breed, all right. Rolle is a college player who can be called a "student-athlete" without it being an oxymoron. He announced this week that he is delaying entering the NFL draft until 2010 so he can spend a year studying medical anthropology at Oxford University.

Myron Rolle
Myron Rolle will be studying in England next year instead of playing in the NFL. And that's a great thing.

In November, Rolle won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, following in the footsteps of NBA legend Bill Bradley and former President Bill Clinton. That alone was an exemplary achievement. But then Rolle really outdid himself by stiff-arming the NFL, even after an advisory committee informed him he would be among the first 50 players chosen in the draft.

"It's a great opportunity," Rolle told ESPN.com. "I'm going to get the chance to study at Oxford and read some incredible books and be among scholars. The whole culture in England is just very appealing. It will make me a better person and a stronger advocate."

Rolle passing up millions to study abroad is a much bigger deal than Tim Tebow winning a second national championship, Alabama returning to national prominence or even Utah's undefeated season.

It would be one thing if Rolle were just a scrub, but he has started virtually every game since his freshman year and was the Seminoles' third-leading tackler this season.

Despite having a legitimate pro future, Rolle did the right thing by not going to the NFL right away. Like Tony Dungy, Rolle's destiny is bigger than football. The NFL might be the best sport in America, but at Oxford, Rolle will be among some of the greatest minds in the world.

"My family was very supportive," Rolle said. "They wanted me to go to Oxford because they taught me to always put education first. It was the most important thing for me besides God and family. Some of my teammates and frat brothers were like, 'Man, that's a lot of money to pass up.' I was definitely getting mixed input."

Most college athletes are obsessed with getting to the pros, and many of them have proved they will do anything to get there, even if it's something unethical. Every day, we read about athletes who let their sport define them. So it's refreshing to know that Rolle's dream isn't to plant his helmet in Tom Brady's ribs. His biggest dream is to open a free medical clinic in the Bahamas, where his parents and some of his siblings were born.

"Studying at Oxford is more than about the acclaim and the power," Rolle said. "It's about the people you meet. Yes, the NFL can give you financial stability, but I feel that's just temporary."

Myron Rolle
Rolle is no slouch on the football field. He'll be a high draft choice, whenever he's ready.

I only wish there 20 million more people like him. I'd rather read 1,000 more stories about Rolle than one more about whether Plaxico Burress should remain a Giant. There wasn't a Tebow run, a Sam Bradford pass, a Colt McCoy scramble or a Michael Crabtree catch this season as impressive as what Rolle has done in the classroom and for his community.

Rolle graduated from his New Jersey high school with a perfect 4.0 GPA, earned his bachelor's degree at FSU in two and a half years and will have his master's degree in public administration before he leaves for Oxford.

Rolle created a program called Our Way To Health for Seminole Indian children to help educate them about the importance of physical fitness. He studied comparative politics and holistic medicine for six weeks in London, and was awarded a $4,000 grant for cancer research.

Rolle would rather be a neurosurgeon than a Pro Bowler. He'd rather work for the World Health Organization, the leading think tank in global health, than be the next Ed Reed. His idol is Benjamin Carson, a doctor and director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, not FSU alum Deion Sanders.

"Access to specialized doctors isn't great," Rolle said. "If an organization could channel the great doctors that are in the United States to other countries, it would be outstanding. There are programs out there, but I see that need."

It's too bad our infatuation with talented athletes who are hopelessly immature and irresponsible prevents us from fully appreciating someone like Rolle and giving him the attention he deserves.

Unbelievably, Rolle once was criticized by FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, who complained that Rolle was spending too much time studying and not enough time preparing as a football player.

Sounds like a pretty smart guy.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.