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Rolle Call
S.L. PRICE
December 10, 2007
Members of the Rolle clan, descended from freed slaves in the Bahamas, have left their mark on football, baseball, basketball, track and other college and pro sports in the U.S.
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December 10, 2007

Rolle Call

Members of the Rolle clan, descended from freed slaves in the Bahamas, have left their mark on football, baseball, basketball, track and other college and pro sports in the U.S.

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Yet the story itself is about as solid as sand. Asked about Lord John's magnanimous handover, Saunders, the historian, says flatly, "He didn't. They squatted on the land. If you look at Lord Rolle's will, he just said [the land] should be sold. The Rolle slaves gained possession by living on the land and farming it. That's just a legend that he gave it to them. We've got a copy of the will."

When questions about the will arise, Kermit pauses, then says, "No one has seen the deed as such, but I'm sure each heir was given a plot." Such a willful disregard of the facts seems odd at first. Kermit directs the car to the farthest reach of Rolleville, to a place called Back Landing. He tells of how, some 20 years ago, he passed a pile of trash outside a government office undergoing renovation and noticed a large engraving of Lord John among the refuse. He took it, cleaned it and displayed it on the wall in his hilltop tavern. Today the portrait hangs in the national archives.

Kermit shows off his spacious house high on the five acres that have been in his family for generations. He points to the spit of land where his dock sways in the water. There, he says—that's where slaves landed on Exuma in the late 1700s. It's at this moment that his stubbornness about John Rolle's will begins to make sense. The legend tidies up a great evil, yes, and even sanctifies the lord's seemingly banal soul. But the legend also enabled the freed Rolles to define themselves: They weren't mere squatters; they were different. They were chosen.

"My father took me here and showed where he was told they came in; that gave me the initiative to build my house right here," Kermit says. "This is why I'm so appreciative of John, Lord Rolle, and what he did as a slave owner. He left us, his people, so we could walk with our heads up high."

ON SEPT. 30, about five minutes before halftime of the Steelers-Cardinals game at University of Phoenix Stadium, Arizona cornerback Antrel Rolle was trotting off the field when he noticed his uniform was speckled with blood. Feeling no pain, he searched his body for a wound until he noticed spots on the glove on his left hand. He yanked off the glove, and blood poured out so thickly that for an instant Antrel thought his forefinger was gone. Then he saw that it was sliced open and dislocated; the bone had popped through the flesh. "It was pointing up," Antrel says. "My finger was pretty much hanging, you know?"

In the locker room team medical personnel manipulated the finger back into place, twice stuck a six-inch-long hypodermic needle into the web between Antrel's fore- and middle fingers for the pain and then stitched it up as Rolle gritted his teeth. The stitches ripped open sometime during the second half. Antrel missed only one defensive series. "Now that's a Rolle thing," says his father, Al, 57. "Right there."

But few took note, because Antrel had contributed only two tackles and one pass deflection in the 21--14 Cardinals win and seemed on track to become just another NFL bust. The No. 8 pick in the 2005 draft, he missed most of his rookie season with injuries. He started all 16 games last year but, dogged by concerns about his lack of speed, lost his job to Eric Green just before the '07 season began. The demotion stung, but Rolle didn't let on. In 1998 he had watched his dad, the obvious choice for the open position of police chief of Homestead, Fla., ride out talk of a nationwide search with a steely smile. Finally, after members of every segment of the community—whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics—rallied to his side, he got the job. Antrel learned how to act like a professional. "We always say a Rolle can never be denied," he says. "All our lives we've heard people say, 'You're never going to last' or 'You're too slow,' but we use that as our fire. We prove them wrong every time."

Antrel's grandfather came over on the Contract with a sixth-grade education, sharecropped and stayed. He worked three menial jobs, raised nine kids and has been married to the same woman for 63 years. Al and his brothers started working with their dad when they were six years old, Friday afternoons and all day on Saturdays. "And he would not let us miss a day of school," Al says. "That's why I come to work every day; this is my 28th year, and I've missed three days. You'd stay home from school? He'd double back from work, and my mom would hide us in the closet. A couple of times he caught me at home, and he made me go. I walked from Homestead to Goulds, nine miles. When I got there, school was out. I turned around and thumbed back home, but made sure I had reported in. Man, he was tough."

Drafted by the Army, Al later completed his college degree. Together with his wife of 27 years, Armelia, a longtime career counselor at Homestead High, he made education the family priority. Two of his sons became police officers like Al, a daughter became a counselor like mom. Antrel missed one day of school in 12 years and finished high school with a 3.8 GPA. He graduated from Miami with honors and a 3.3. Al rose through the police ranks over 18 years and became the first black captain, then major, then chief in Homestead history. "Homestead was a pretty redneck racist town," Al says. "I never thought I'd be a police officer here, never mind the chief."

Antrel got into serious trouble once. In July 2004, just before his senior year at Miami, he was suspended by the team after being charged with battery of a Miami police officer and resisting arrest. Antrel says he was approached for blocking traffic, but the police complaint states that he was on the street fighting with a group of people. Antrel, who denies there was a fight, says the police tried to pull him from his car. He acknowledges that he shook off the officer's hand from his arm but says he did not hit him; two weeks later the assistant state attorney called the contact between the two men "merely incidental" and did not file the charges. Al backed Antrel start to finish, but until the end, Antrel says, "I couldn't sleep at night because I didn't want anybody looking at me differently. My name carries a lot."

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