Jemele Hill of ESPN wrote an excellent column on Myron Rolle, the Florida State defensive back who is postponing his experience with the NFL draft for a year so he can study in England as part of his Rhodes Scholarship. Rolle is incredibly smart, as if that statement wasn't redundant after saying he's a Rhodes Scholar. Even with the pressures of playing on a major-college football team, he managed to graduate with a 3.75 GPA in two and a half years. The guy was almost done with his masters by the time he ran out of football eligibility. One could reasonably assume here that the player in question was only a borderline football talent for the draft and he's just playing the odds here: declare for the draft and be passed over for the scholarship or take the Rhodes scholarship and add a major boost to his resume. The truth is that he was projected to be taken in the top 50 picks and quite possibly as a first-rounder and still he chose his education over the NFL. He does plan to declare for the draft next year, but after a year out of the sport, he's sure to drop down the draft board, meaning much less money in his NFL paycheck.
Now, I'm not saying that I really think any less of the guys who don't choose to put off the NFL draft for their education. Let's face it. The guys leaving college early are pretty much guaranteed millions of dollars in a few years even if they turn out to be flops in the NFL. Besides, going to the NFL doesn't preclude them from finishing their education. Besides, having been NFL players does a lot for their future career options. We hear about the guys who blow through their millions on drugs and hoes and end up living in a trailer, but those are really the minority. Most of them live pretty comfortably after they leave professional sports. Basically, unless your goal is to spend a career in academia, the only reason to finish college is to get a good job. If the guy has any sense, he'll manage that after he's done with his athletic career. If not, that's his fault. He had plenty of capital to buy bunch of Applebee's franchises and he blew it on coke.
I wouldn't fault Rolle if he had chosen the draft over being a Rhodes Scholar. Taking the big bucks now might actually help him start that free clinic in the Bahamas that is his ultimate goal, but I can't help but to be impressed by Rolle's choice. I enjoyed Hill's take on this story, and, like her, I wish we would focus more on stories like this than Pacman Jones (who grabs headlines with his slightest misstep despite being only a mediocre NFL starter), TO, or OJ Simpson. The truth is that the world and the people in it are generally much better than we typically let on. Strangers are more likely to help you than hurt you. College athletes are more likely to graduate and move on to a real job than to make fools of themselves in the pro sports world. Even some of those college athletes who do take a break from or end their education for careers in the pros are often very good and very intelligent people. Guys like Warrick Dunn are known more for their low-key reactions to their own successes and their charity work than for anything bad they've ever done. Calvin Johnson was a huge star in college (and putting up great stats on the world's worst professional football team) and yet spent his summers working on improving sanitation problems in third world countries. Even many of the players who don't have something exceptionally good worth praising in public are good people who are no worse than the average person. These people should be recognized. They should be held up as examples that just because you're gifted, wealthy, and a star doesn't mean that you have to be an idiot, asshole, or a criminal.
Where I start to disagree with Hill is when she makes this point: "I'd rather read 1,000 more stories about Rolle than one more about whether Plaxico Burress should remain a Giant." We as a culture should do more to encourage and praise academic and social success, but there's a reason you don't see many of these stories on the news. No one really cares. It's sad, but true. Humans are naturally drawn to the suffering of others. We are entertained by the drama in the lives of people who aren't us. A mediocre NFL starter making it rain in a strip club is much more entertaining than a talented prospect passing up the NFL for a year in order to further his education. TO's inability to stop being a locker-room cancer (even though I think he honestly tried to stop this year) is much more captivating than Samkon Gado's short burst in the limelight before fading away to return to medical school. Some NBA star getting busted for drunken driving is more interesting than some NBA star not getting arrested for anything.
And this just isn't a product of modern media or our obsession with sports. Just listen to people gossiping, and I'm defining gossip as talking about people the speakers know, meaning that all of us gossip. We may give a few sentences to the college graduations, promotions, awards, more if the person in question is our mother-father-brother-sister-child, but the topics we linger on are the negative topics like death, divorce, job loss, and scandal. The fact of the matter is that we really expect people to be good. When they screw up, it's news. When they go above and beyond the call of expectations with their goodness, they earn a few sentences in gossip and a scattering of columns written before the conversation turns back to who did what to whom.