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Young Athletes to Emulate  On and Off the Field
By PJ Rain
[BN-W Sports]

May 28, 2010

In 2008, the headlines from the Beijing Olympics were dominated by the athletic
exploits of swimmer Michael Phelps, sprinter Usain Bolt, and of course the
United States star-studded basketball “Dream Team.”  Phelps went on to cash in
on several multi-million dollar endorsement deals, and later demonstrated to
corporate America that he wasn’t mature enough to be marketed as America’s
golden child.  Usain Bolt, whose record-setting Olympic performances were
arguably on par with those of Phelps, continued to compete and make appearances
after the Olympics before securing a few endorsement deals of his own, and The
Dream Team basketball players went back to their lavish and lucrative NBA
celebrity lifestyles.  One special athlete who did not garner any major Olympic
headlines or high-profile post-Olympic endorsements is American volleyball
player Oganna Nnamani.*

Nnamani and her Team USA volleyball contingent won the silver medal in Beijing,
and she recently signed a contract to play volleyball professionally for the
Czech Republic in a highly competitive European League.**  Although Oganna
Nnamani’s first sport and early obsession was basketball, she received her
initial introduction to volleyball as a seventh grader.  However, the primary
concern of her parents was always with academics, and she was never permitted
to participate in extra-curricular activities unless she was caught up and had
completed all of her schoolwork.

Nnamani was raised in the central Illinois region known as Bloomington-Normal,
which is located about 100 miles southwest of Chicago.    Her parents, Chika and
Uzo, moved from Nigeria to Bloomington several years before Nnamani’s 1983
birth to pursue college degrees at Illinois State University.  Nnamani has
always relied heavily on the support of her parents, and even today, she is
still motivated by the example of their journey towards self-improvement.

Nnamani’s first life challenge and athletic obstacle occurred at the age of two
when she was diagnosed with severe asthma.  She was hospitalized several times
and not even permitted to participate in recess until sometime after the third
or fourth grade.  As a 9-year-old in 1992, Nnamani realized that she could
participate in sports despite having asthma when she witnessed Jackie
Joyner-Kersee’s gold medal performance in the Barcelona Olympic Games.
Kersee’s challenge of overcoming asthma as a child was highly publicized during
her multiple Olympic campaigns, and her victories provided considerable
inspiration to Nnamani who began walking around the neighborhood with her
father everyday after dinner to build up her lungs.  Nnamani eventually
progressed to running which further increased her lung capacity and also helped
her gain medical clearance to dress for gym class.

The 1996 Olympic Games carried Nnamani’s next athletic inspiration as she
discovered another great female athlete whose performance permanently swayed
Nnamani towards the sport of volleyball.  Her father had taken her to watch the
men’s gold medal soccer match between Nigeria and Argentina at a local sports
restaurant, and while they stayed to celebrate Nigeria’s victory, the telecast
switched over to the women’s gold medal volleyball match between Cuba and
China.    Nnamani was highly impressed by the play of the Cuban star, Mireya
Luis, and decided to devote herself to becoming a great volleyball player.***

Of course, Nnamani’s dedication to volleyball continued to be tempered by her
parents insistence that she excel academically as well.  Her father’s
assertion that he and Uzo did not set out to raise a superstar athlete, but
smart children who would defy the stereotypes associated with race and
intelligence became quite apparent later when Nnamani was named class
valedictorian, served as student body president, served in the National Mu
Alpha Theta Math Society, and was a member of the National Honor Society during
her senior year at University High School in Normal, Illinois.    In that same
senior year, Nnamani was also named the National High School Volleyball Player
of the Year by Gatorade, ESPN, and Volleyball Magazine.  She also led her team
to their second straight high school state championship, and earned a
scholarship to study and compete at Stanford University.

While at Stanford, Nnamani majored in chemistry and human biology in
preparation for her pursuit to become a physician.  She also helped the team to
two NCAA volleyball championships and was the youngest player selected for the
Team USA volleyball squad in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.  During her senior
year at Stanford, Nnamani was honored with the Honda-Broderick Cup which
recognized her as the top female collegiate athlete in the nation.

The soon to be 27-year-old Nnamani hopes to have one more Olympic gold medal
opportunity at the 2012 games in London.  In the meantime, she has brought some
chemistry textbooks, MCAT study materials, and some other textbooks to the
Czech Republic to “warm up her brain” for an eventual return to the classroom
to  prepare for her medical career after volleyball.  Nnamani is a unique role
model for young athletes, and she often asks the young girls that she visits to
tell her about the middle-aged volleyball players they have seen.  She then
follows up by emphasizing that there are none.    Volleyball is one of Nnamani’s
passions, and because her parents have instilled in her the importance of
furthering her education and being well-rounded, she is able to enjoy her time
as a professional athlete in the Czech Republic without feeling constrained by
the pressures of having no other options.

Another young athlete who aspires to be a physician and who recently crossed
into the professional sports world is football player Myron Rolle.  Similar to
Nnamani, Rolle was a standout athlete and a stellar student during his high
school days at the Hun School of Princeton, New Jersey.  He maintained a 4.0
GPA, served as an editor of the school paper, played saxophone in the band, and
even had a lead role in the school’s production of Fiddler on the Roof.  His
exploits on the football field as a running back and defensive back led to
national number one prospect rankings by the,, and websites, and ultimately earned him scholarship offers from over 80
different Division I Universities.  In the end, Rolle decided to attend and
play football for Florida State University in the fall of 2006.

As a Florida State Seminole defensive back, Rolle was a three-year starter,
completing his undergraduate pre-med requirements and earning a Bachelor of
Arts Degree in Exercise Science in just two and a half years.  In 2008, while
pursuing a master’s degree in public administration during his third season as
a Seminole football player, Rolle missed his only start of the season to
interview for an opportunity to receive the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to
study abroad in Oxford, England. When he returned to play in the
Seminoles game at Maryland against the Terrapins, he did so as one of only 32
national Rhodes Scholarship recipients that year and as one of only about 80

Rolle finished the 2008 season as an All-Conference safety and was projected to
be a first or second round draft pick in the subsequent 2009 NFL draft, but he
chose to forego the opportunity to be drafted into the NFL and to skip his last
season of football eligibility at Florida State to obtain his masters degree in
medical anthropology as a Rhodes Scholar.  While studying at Oxford, Rolle
continued to condition and prepare himself for the opportunity to play in the
NFL, and one of his four older brothers, McKinley, accompanied him to provide
moral support and to help him train.

Rolle’s decision was questioned by many NFL executives and scouts because they
were concerned about his desire to commit to playing football at a high level.
According to many of them, he had too much going for him off the playing field.
It was as if Rolle’s decision to take advantage of an opportunity to develop
his mind at one of the world’s most renowned academic institutions while
simultaneously preparing himself for life as a professional athlete was a sign
of weakness and indecisiveness rather than of fortitude and conviction.

Nevertheless, the depth of the support for his unique intellectual endeavor has
made the entire experience worthwhile for Rolle.  At one point, before he left
for Oxford, he was approached by former Heisman Trophy Winner and All-Pro
defensive back, Charles Woodson, who said “Congratulations Myron.  You have
made all of us smile.”   He was also greeted with a bow of deference from
Princeton professor and Civil Rights activist, Cornell West, who told him “You
are the future of Black America.”

Myron Rolle fully recognizes and accepts the significance of that statement by
Professor West.  Having drawn inspiration that he could grow up to be a
neurosurgeon when he read a book as a fifth grader about acclaimed
African-American neurosurgeon, Dr. Ben Carson, Rolle is anxious to provide that
same type of inspiration to the generations that follow him.  He also already
has plans to open a free medical clinic in his family’s native home of Exuma,
Bahamas, where he intends to assist the island’s existing physicians in
addressing crucial untreated and undiagnosed health issues like diabetes,
hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.

The 23-year-old Rolle is now back in the United States and has returned to the
pursuit of his NFL goal.  In April 2010, after being bypassed until the last
day of the NFL draft, he was selected by the Tennessee Titans with the last
pick in the 6th round.    Although he was disappointed with his slot in the
draft, Rolle is determined to make an immediate impact as an NFL rookie in the
coming season.    Regardless of the outcome on the football field this season,
his impact in his community is already being felt.


* The name Ogonna Nnamani is pronounced  “oh-GONE-uh”  “nuh-MON-ee.”  The last
name Nnamani in Igbo, the native language of Ogannas parents, translates to
mean “one who knows the land.”    Her first name, Ogonna, means “father’s
generosity, father’s magnanimity,” perhaps in tribute to being the first born.
Ogonna has one younger sister, Njideka (also a volleyball player), and two
younger brothers, Nnaemeka and Ikechi.

** Compensation packages for professional women’s volleyball in Europe are
nothing like the typical contracts for the major professional sports here in
the United States.  Salaries, depending on the ability of the player, can range
from $300/ month to $10,000/ month.  Many packages also include signing and
incentive bonuses, with rent, transportation, daily meals, mobile phone usage,
and insurance benefits frequently included as well.  In addition, the salary is
typically tax-free.

*** Mireya Luis is a highly celebrated Cuban volleyball player of African
descent who was famous for her tremendous jumping and scoring ability despite
being only 5′ 9″ in height. She played on three different Olympic gold medal
volleyball teams (1992, 1996, and 2000).

**** Cecil John Rhodes, for whom the Rhodes Scholarship is named, was a white
Englishman who built an empire of land and wealth in the late 19th century by
engineering the brutal and merciless betrayal of self-sufficient African
kingdoms using missionaries, guns, and deceit to destroy communities and to
exploit the African continent’s abundant resources.  The formation of the De
Beer’s diamond cartel was one of the many ways that he benefited from the
desolation of a rich and proud culture.

The Rhodes Scholarships for post-graduate study at Oxford University were
established as one of Rhodes philanthropic efforts later in his life.    The
scholarships are awarded and administered in accordance with the terms of his
will and trust.  The four standards by which a candidate is judged are as
follows: (1) literary and scholastic achievement;  (2) energy to utilize one’s
talents to the fullest; (3) truth, courage, and devotion to duty and sympathy
and protection of the weak; and (4) moral force of character and instincts to
lead (note the irony in items “3”and “4”.

A few notable Rhodes Scholars include former President Bill Clinton
(1968); former NBA player, Senator for New Jersey, and presidential candidate
Bill Bradley (1965); and current mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker

***** It is unfortunate that the mindset of NFL evaluators tends to applaud the
loyalty of players who skip the draft as underclassmen in order to play out
their senior seasons when in reality the primary goal of these players is
neither to oblige the university nor to complete their degrees.  Instead these
players have the ulterior motive of improving their position in a subsequent
NFL draft.  Although such an obsession with NFL success is an appealing
characteristic for NFL scouts, self-validation based on NFL achievements does
not translate into healthy long-term success.  A recent illustration of how
damaging such a single-minded approach can be is seen in the past and present
off-the-field issues of NFL Hall-of-Famer Lawrence Taylor.
he following article is via the BlackList

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