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Former Ram quarterback opens up about career-ending concussion in new film

Group photo of student production team
A short film produced by students in the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program premiered at a film festival on April 24. From left: DPT students Caroline Somerville and Nathanial Goodwin; former WSSU quarterback Rod Tinsley; and DPT students Dara Green, Ladi Omitoogun and Nathan Mooney.

As quarterback, Rod Tinsley ‘18 led the Rams to two Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) conference championships and became the second leading passer in school history.

His football career ended after he suffered a concussion – the fifth of his career – in a home game against Virginia Union on Sept. 22.

Students in Winston-Salem State University's Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program are telling Tinsley’s story as part of a short film they created as a component of the course Neuromuscular II.

Caroline Somerville, a third-year DPT student, said she and her team of classmates met with Tinsley four or five times. 

MORE: WSSU only HBCU chosen to participate in largest-ever concussion study 

“We were encouraged by what he had to say,” Somerville said. “Rod has a great story, and we want people to see it. I was taken aback by the fact that he felt so alone, but I learned from his resilience.”

Somerville, along with classmates Nathanial Goodwin, Dara Green ‘16, Ladi Omitoogun and Nathan Mooney produced the short film, “Suffering in Silence: A Personal Look at Concussion.” The film premiered on April 25 at “Movies That Move,” an on-campus film festival that highlighted the work of DPT students. This was also the first time Tinsley had seen the video.

Suffering in Silence

The film opens with game footage of Tinsley and continues as he recounts the concussion that ended his football career and the lingering after-effects.

“I started crying after the game,” he said in the film. “That was kind of my thought process, like, ‘Hey, is this going to happen again? Am I going to be the same me that I was?’ You know, just a lot of confusion.”

Tinsley said he suffered from headaches, memory loss, and confusion.

For Tinsley, the film project helped him verbalize the struggle that he is still facing after the concussion.

“Sometimes, I still get emotional over it because I had to end my football career,” Tinsley said after seeing the film for the first time. “I just appreciate y’all for allowing me to speak on it so I’m not stressed about it anymore.”

According to the University of Pittsburgh's Brain Trauma Research Center, more than 300,000 sports-related concussions occur annually in the United States. Among college football players, 34 percent have had one concussion, and 20 percent have endured multiple concussions. An athlete who sustains a concussion is 4-6 times more likely to sustain a second one. 

With football behind him, Tinsley now has his sights set on a new goal. The justice studies graduate is hoping to help people in the community by pursuing a career as a police officer.

Movies That Move

Dr. Sara Migliarese, an associate professor within the Department of Physical Therapy, said the film project is designed to promote the professional characteristics of compassion, altruism and empathy. 

“While PTs typically have more time than other primary care providers to connect with their patients, this project allowed our students the opportunity and honor of entering someone’s life in their own environment, versus a clinic or hospital,” Migliarese said. “They were able to see the direct, positive impact of physical therapy on someone’s life well after therapy is over.”

This was just one of the films produced for the class. Other DPT student-produced films focused on conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

For the first time this year, DPT students also partnered with students in the Department of Communications and Media Studies and staff from the C.G. O’Kelly Library to edit the films. Tinsley’s film was edited by James Russell and Byron Williams from the library’s media production lab.

The film project was highlighted in 2017 at a statewide physical therapy conference.

The Doctor of Physical Therapy is a signature program of WSSU’s School of Health Sciences, an ethnically diverse school that embraces health equity in education, research and service. For more information, please visit the SOHS website.

MORE: Photos from the "Movies the Move" film festival

About Winston-Salem State University
Winston-Salem State University fosters the creative thinking, analytical problem-solving, and depth of character needed to transform the world. Rooted in liberal education, WSSU’s curriculum prepares students to be thought leaders who have the skills and knowledge needed to develop innovative solutions to complex problems. Founded in 1892, WSSU is a historically Black constituent institution of the University of North Carolina with a rich tradition of contributing to the social, cultural, intellectual, and economic growth of North Carolina, the region and beyond. Guided by the motto, “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve,” WSSU develops leaders who advance social justice by serving the world with compassion and commitment.

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