Athlete / NYJSM Interview / Rashad Holman

Interview with Rashad Holman

December 7, 2007

Matthew Vasey, MD

Rashad Holman was selected during the 6th round of the 2001 NFL Draft, the 179th pick overall by the San Francisco 49ers out of the University of Louisville. Rashad played three full seasons with an abbreviated fourth and final year due to injury with the Baltimore Ravens where he announced his retirement in February 2005. Rashad's most memorable game in the league was an excellent individual performance in a 2002 Playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His playing years consisted of countless plays at both the safety and cornerback position, along with the versatility to contribute to both Nickel and Dime defensive formations. These qualifications were consistent with being a significant defensive asset for the San Francisco 49ers throughout his career.

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Rashad has since relocated to New York City to kickoff his next Professional Career. With a Bachelors Degree in Accounting from the University of Lousiville, a Wall Street Firm Internship behind him and business consulting experience with passing scores on his desired Post-Graduate examinations, Rashad's success in life can only continue. Now with an Interview on added to his lengthy list of accomplishments, the sky is truly the limit.

Dr. Vasey: Rashad, I want to thank you for taking time out of your schedule to have this interview with me for To begin, why don't you just tell me a little bit about the injury you wanted to talk about? You had mentioned to me earlier a "stinger" injury of left shoulder.
Rashad Holman: Yes, the most significant injury from my playing days was to my left shoulder. The injury involved nerve damage, with other complications that I believe to be related. The major injury, without a doubt was the nerve damage. I had an AC sprain later which I believe sort of came along with it from the muscle being weak.

Dr. Vasey: When did this injury take place?
Rashad Holman: Actually, it started back in high school during my senior year in a basketball game. A guy set a pick on me. I didn't see him coming. I was moving laterally at full speed trying to cut someone off and an "oversized" guy set a pick. It was like running into a wall. If I had seen him coming, I would have been able to tense up and give him the hit. I wasn't ready. I wasn't expecting it. Let's say this guy should have been a defensive tackle, instead he was out on the basketball court setting picks. So, my worst injury is actually a reoccurring basketball injury.

Dr. Vasey: A high school basketball injury plagued you throughout your college and NFL career?
Rashad Holman: Yep.

Dr. Vasey: What did it feel like when it happened out on the court?
Rashad Holman: I remember feeling a burning sensation in my shoulder. It was burning so bad that I almost couldn't walk. I just made it over to the bench to sit down. The pain was so intense. I wasn't expecting it at all. It was like getting hit when you aren't ready. You are unable to protect yourself.

Dr. Vasey: How long until this injury affected your football career?
Rashad Holman: The game was my senior year. I didn't have to play football again until that fall in college at Louisville. I thought I had plenty of time to heal. It was just a resting course of therapy for me.

Dr. Vasey: When was the first recurrence?
Rashad Holman: I was red-shirted during my first year at Louisville. I can't remember having any significant stingers that first season, but like I said, I was red-shirted. I did do a lot of hitting but didn't really notice any problems. My focus was on getting bigger and stronger. Not until one day in practice during my first playing year when I hit this guy. It wasn't even a direct hit. That was the thing, it was a tackle where I just grabbed hold to bring him down. The hit was flush against my shoulder. That was my second Fall season after my red-shirt freshman year. I am not going to say that was the first time I noticed the sensation since that basketball game, but this time in particular, really impacted me. It was towards the end of my first playing season in college when I lost all the strength in my shoulder from that tackle. This was the worst hit. I lost all the strength in my arm. As much as it recurred that was the most memorable. Over and over, from practices to games, that was the worst.

Dr. Vasey: Did anything make it better during your college playing days?
Rashad Holman: The only thing I could do and I did this even when I got to the pros was a lot of shoulder exercises. Back in high school I never did it. Every week, I had to do a lot of shoulder exercises.

Dr. Vasey: What sort of advice did you receive from trainers, coaches, etc . . . with an injury that you knew was significant? You told me before the interview it was as if your arm wasn't moving as it should. You weren't even able to lift weights.
Rashad Holman: It was a dramatic injury for me because my arm wasn't operating right. Obviously, I knew something drastic had happened to my shoulder. When I raised my arm, my brain was telling it to do something and my arm was doing something completely different. That was the first time I ever experience anything like that. People talk of an "out-of-body experience, it literally was. My mind wasn't connected to my body. I looked in the mirror and was like, what the hell is going on? I can go back and think about it and until you really see it and experience it you can't believe it. The advice I got was that I was going to have to start from scratch and build my strength back up. That sounded funny at the time, but as I started to rehab, I had to begin with 2lb weights to just to have my shoulder to go through normal range of motion. Even 5 lbs was too much to raise my arm at the time. I began to increase and eventually got it back to my regular motion with the normal weights that I had been doing. Just about all of my strength came back, but I new I would never be 100%. Even now I still feel weak in my left arm. Haha, don't get me wrong, I can still push someone around because I am stronger than the average person, but if I wasn't working out regularly, I feel like my arm would wither away.

Dr. Vasey: I certainly think even your arm at a quarter percent strength, is at least twice as strong as my shoulder, haha, but . . . So, did you have to take any medications?
Rashad Holman: I know I took Vicodin for the severe injuries initially, but was promptly switched to the over-the-counter type pain relievers.

Dr. Vasey: You don't want to be Vicodin all the time that's for sure. Although I know some "street doctors" and internet pharmacies would argue.
Rashad Holman: Right, just to be clear, I was never big into medication. In order to get better, I knew I needed to stay on top of the rehabilitation and get into the weight room. After that injury recurred in my college years it changed the way I looked at the weight room. I was one of the smallest guys on the football field.

Dr. Vasey: How tall are you and how much did you weigh in your playing days?
Rashad Holman: I am 5ft 11in tall. I was probably, 185 pounds at that time before the injury and worked my way up to 195 which was my heaviest. That may have been a problem as I felt a lot bigger out on the field. It gave me confidence. I felt like I could hit anyone, challenge anybody. What ended up happening one game, I went in hard after a running back, probably weighed about 225. He didn't blow me up or visa versa, but that lead to the AC joint sprain during my college years. We had a coaching change for the university that really focused on weight training. Getting us to look like football players, and be bigger than the other team. I believe that weight trainer saved me, and is probably why I was able to make it to the NFL. I used to think with football, I was always just a better athlete than everyone. People would lift more than me when I was younger, but it didn't matter. I would say and know I was still better than they were out on the field. As you get older in a game that is so physical you have to work out.

Dr. Vasey: Out of college, branded shoulder injury, going into combine, what did you go through with that process?
Rashad Holman: When you go through combine, one thing they do is get everyone lined up to enter about six different rooms. There are a few teams represented in each room where each team's doctors get to inspect you. Some are taking notes. Some are pulling on your leg, twisting your arm, checking where you were injured. The purpose is to see what kind of reaction you have to them pulling and manipulating you. I knew I had my nerve injury and AC sprain. So did they. They would take my arm and move my head around. They knew how to elicit the pain. I was just going to keep a straight face. I made it through, but all it takes is one team to say we need the MRI. I was one of the last guys to leave the hospital. They were drawing blood, taking X-rays, getting MRI's and all this stuff. I didn't even have any problems my Junior or Senior year at Louisville. I might have missed one game Junior year because of something. I really can't remember.

Dr. Vasey: It wasn't because you were out parting late Friday night?
Rashad Holman: No, it wasn't that, haha.

Dr. Vasey: Was the option of surgery ever presented to you for treatment?
Rashad Holman: By the time I got to the NFL, this was a recurring thing. I didn't face the shoulder pain very much my last years in college. Now I was in the pros, it got to a point by my second season I was getting stingers every game. I was used to knowing my first hit in the game was going to take me out for a play or two and just got it out of the way. I knew it was getting bad. I felt like my body was breaking down which isn't a great feeling to have in your mid-twenties. I decided to see a doctor to see what could be done about it. At the time, I didn't feel like I could continue to play. That's when they told me the space for my nerve to pass through was narrowed from inflammation and scar tissue and leading to the repeated stingers. They said I could have a surgery. They would clean out the area, but no guarantee it would help.

Dr. Vasey: I venture to say, it is all but impossible to get a guarantee on anything in medicine.
Rashad Holman: I decided I didn't want to do it. I figured, I had this since high school, played through college and still made it to the NFL. I passed on the operation. I played my last year in a lot of pain with the 49ers. There were a few games that required numbing injections in the beginning of the game and at half time. As much as I like to knock it, I didn't come out any worse from that. At least in the NFL and college you have doctors and trainers. They are big on breaking up scar tissue. You know, the more you play the faster you recover. When I had the injections, I really felt like I was treating myself by playing out on the field. My range of motion would improve and I felt a lot better at the end of the game.

Dr. Vasey: There are actually, procedures where patients are put under anesthesia and treated with manipulation just to break up scar tissue to help increase range of motion.

Dr. Vasey: Did you pursue any holistic or alternative approaches to therapy?
Rashad Holman: The one thing I did, the NFL docs and trainers, from my perspective, don't believe in chiropractic manipulation. We did have a chiropractor though, that would come in and pop guys backs and other little tricks but don't think the organization really believed in the therapy. I went to a chiropractic doctor on my own. That doctor did something that no one else did. She actually inspected my shoulders from behind me and told me my shoulders were asymmetric. My shoulders didn't even look the same anymore. She said there was a lot of muscle atrophy on my left side in the back. The shape of my shoulder was completely different.
Dr. Vasey: I suspect that is a result of accessory muscle development to compensate to compromised function of the deltoid which is the main shoulder muscle.
Rashad Holman: Anyone who looks at my shoulders now can see, it almost looks like a dent goes over my arm.

Dr. Vasey: If you had the opportunity to speak with yourself when you were at the college level is there anything you would tell yourself?
Rashad Holman: The only thing I can say I would have done differently is to have been more serious about getting in the gym and building up my strength. High school is so different than college and college is so different than the pros. From high school to college, the guys are a lot bigger. When you get to the pros, the guys are not only bigger but faster. Every level is such a step up. For me to ask, would I do anything different? I would maybe have taken more time off, reduced my hitting so I wouldn't put myself at risk for my injuries later. I was lucky to get to the NFL after an injury like this my first year. I only made it by throwing myself in the weight room.

Dr. Vasey: It's hard to argue with a 3 year career in the NFL. That is very impressive.

Dr. Vasey: If you had any advice to young people in high school, or at the college level with an injury like yours what would you say to them?
Rashad Holman: Certainly, listen to you doctor.
Dr. Vasey: Haha, I have to agree with you.
Rashad Holman: If a young player was to come across this injury, I would say, do a lot of rehabilitation whenever possible. Make sure you are doing rehab the right way. Manage with appropriate medication as prescribed. You have to understand, coaches at the college lever are so different than pros. Those coaches put so much pressure on guys to play. Especially, if you are the best player. If you're just a mediocre guy filling the void and they can replace you easily, they won't stress you to play. But if they are counting you, the drop off of skill is that big and they need you. They are going to put a lot of pressure on you to play. My advice is that you have to listen to your body. Coaches will play mind games and say you are weak, you're not tough and stuff like that, but that's bull shit. By the time I got to the pros I realized that's bull shit. When you are at the professional level, they look at you as an investment. They are paying the guy behind you. So if someone has to fill in, he's getting paid like you so he is expected to perform. In college, the guy behind may be a scholarship guy but the coach knows his job is on the line so he wants the best guy on the line every time. It's a tough thing. Like I said, what I would tell any athlete with any injury, listen to you body. Your body will tell you when you are right and when you are not. If you are out there and you are not right, you will perform less than yourself. That just isn't going to cut it, not at the college level and definitely, not at the professional level.

Dr. Vasey: From a medical standpoint, when you are making a decision regarding an injury, you want to look at the benefits and risks.

Rashad Holman: Young kids don't realize that sports are temporary. When you are growing up you feel like you can play forever. Some people are smart enough to realize this earlier than others.

Dr. Vasey: How are old are you?
Rashad Holman: I'm 29.

Dr. Vasey: You're 29. I'm 28. You are retired. I feel like my life hasn't even started.

Rashad Holman: Haha, I feel like I'm just starting, fresh out of school, playing. I'm looking for my place in the world. I have played this sport since I was six years old. My whole life, I've played a game. Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to complain. I have received a lot of benefits.

Dr. Vasey: Your IRA is much bigger than mine, along with your bench press, but at least in my defense, our shoes appear to be the same size, haha. Seriously though, that's great, a testament to you. You have played at the professional level of a sport and are now embarking on a professional business career. That is the best of all worlds. You never compromised education. You graduated, and here we are with this interview. Perhaps in ten years we may both be retired, for you, a second time.

Stay tuned for a medical article on "stingers" . . . on Social Media