NFL Coach Shares His Top Defensive Tips for Skin Cancer Prevention

The Skin Cancer Foundation

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For Sean McDermott, head coach of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, a strong defensive strategy is a key part of winning, both on and off the field. #ThisIsSkinCancer

Sean, a fair-skinned, blue-eyed redhead, is no stranger to the damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays. But what opened his eyes to the dangers of skin cancer was seeing a mentor and good friend struck down by the disease. Since then, Sean has solidified his defense against skin cancer with a complete approach that combines sun protection and early detection.

“My job entails being outside on the practice field with the team,” Sean explains. “Because of that, I feel like I’m exposed to the sun even more than normal, so I want to make sure that I’m doing everything I can to protect myself.”


Tip #1: Sunscreen

Every morning, Sean puts on sunscreen and reapplies it as directed. “Listen, there’s not a lot of people who like wearing sunscreen,” he says. “I know I certainly don’t enjoy wearing sunscreen; it was a constant tug of war for me, especially when I was a kid. But I came to learn that it’s very important.”

The 47-year-old coach believes that he has benefited from wearing sunscreen most of his life. But he also knows that sun damage is cumulative, so the risk of skin cancer is always high, especially with his fair skin type. “There were times when I didn’t wear sunblock, and so I’m seeing both sides of it right now, dealing with different forms of skin cancer that have come up, squamous cell or basal cell carcinomas.”

Tip #2: Sun-Protective Clothing

If you’ve ever seen photos or video of Sean coaching, you’ll notice that he wears long-sleeved sun-protective shirts and long pants while out on the field. “I thought that if you just wear normal clothes, then your skin is protected from the harmful effects of the sun,” he adds. “But the reality is that they now make a lot of clothing that has sun protection in it.”

Sean acknowledges that staying sun-safe is not always easy, but it’s necessary. “There are times when it’s hot that I’d like to be out there in the yard with no shirt and no hat,” he says. “Sometimes it doesn’t look great, but sun protection is very important.”

Tip #3: Hats

 A wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses are also part of Sean’s daily sun strategy. In fact, he keeps a hat on the dashboard of his car to ensure that he has one handy at all times.

“I’m in and out of the car often with errands and running kids around and coming to work in the morning,” he says. “The sun’s out, and I put that hat on because I know when I come out in the afternoon, the sun will be even stronger. I want to make sure that even during my walk to my parking spot that I’m protected.”

Sun Protection + Early Detection = A Winning Defense

Sean notes that early detection is vital because skin cancer is very curable when caught early. That’s why he is diligent about checking his skin every day and seeing his dermatologist regularly.

“I think it’s important on a daily basis that you check your skin visually, what you can see from the arms or chest, to your legs, and sometimes even in between your toes,” he explains. “In particular look at the parts that are exposed to sun – the arms, neck, face and head.”

For hard-to-see areas like the back, behind the ears, top of the head, Sean recommends taking a photo or having a family member take a look. “I use my phone to take pictures of things that show up and then send them to my dermatologist. If you see anything new, changing or unusual, go get checked.”

“It is a pain in the butt to go to the dermatologist – or any doctor for that matter – but I go because I want to raise my kids,” he says. “I go because I want to retire one day, be able to enjoy life and know that I’ve taken care of my body. And a big piece of that is taking care of my skin.”

On Losing a Mentor and Friend

“One of my biggest mentors in the NFL was Jim Johnson, the legendary defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles,” Sean says. “When I was with the Eagles for the better part of 12 years, Jim was one of the best in our business, and still is remembered that way.”

Coach Johnson passed away in July 2009 at the age of 68, after a hard-fought battle with melanoma. “To see a man struck down in such a short amount of time by skin cancer sent a message to me at a young age that, hey – I better pay attention,” he explains. “This guy I looked up to, a guy who was so strong and seemingly invincible in my eyes, it made this skin cancer message real.”

Since then, Sean has made it his mission to spread the word about the dangers of skin cancer and the need for a solid defense against the sun’s harmful rays. “My kids are also fair skinned,” he says. “We talk a lot about sun protection, and they see what I wear. I think that sends a message. I believe that educating our children and educating adults is highly important.”

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