ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) — While it might seem unusual to be covered head to toe outside on a hot, sunny, humid day in the middle of August, for Bills head coach Sean McDermott it’s the norm and necessity.
“My wife thinks that this is my like my “challenge in life”. Everyone has kind of their challenge and she swears this is my challenge,” McDermott told News 4 Sports.
That challenge is skin cancer.
“You know I’ll take it, there’s worse things in life but it does get tiresome just to be able to walk outside and I’ve gotta think about putting a hat on when I go take the trash out just to be smart.”
McDermott has battled skin cancer for a while but just started talking about his fight publicly within the last year.
“Thankfully my Mom and Dad had me go to a dermatologist when I was younger in Philadelphia. A couple things frozen off then that were what they call AK’s or actinic keratosis and so then it kind of got more and more significant I guess you’d say with basal cell and squamous cell. So I think it’s just as I’ve gotten older it’s just, it continues to be more and more of a fight and I have to be more and more aware of what I’m wearing sunblock, clothing, etc.,” McDermott said.
“Listen I’d love to tan and maybe that’s part of my problem, you know wanting to get a tan when I was younger and not wearing sunblock or not listening to my mom and dad when they’d say wear sunblock, wear sunblock. I’m like no I wanna get a tan because it looks so cool to have that tan.”
It’s been so much of a fight that McDermott has lost track of how many spots he’s needed to have removed. The amount of times he’s been to the dermatologist over time has probably gotten fuzzy as well since he goes at least ten times a year and sometimes more depending on what procedures he has to have done.
“There’s biopsies, there’s surgeries like this latest Mohs surgery [as he gestures to the left side of his head, above his ear] that I had to have something taken off where they take it over the microscope, see if it has the cancer cells still in it, and if it does they go back and scrape more off. Then they put it under the microscope again until it’s clean,” McDermott explained.
“Modern technology and science have advanced to the point of just amazement for me and what they can do but it also gets tiring as well, I gotta be honest and it doesn’t feel good. I would like to just go to bed at night without having to put cream on here or take this medicine there so it does get a little bit exhausting at times.”
No matter how frustrating his now normal, daily routine is, McDermott knows the alternative option of not doing these things could cost him his life.
“At the end of the day we have people that we live for as well, our family, our friends, they want us around and in order for us to be around we’ve gotta choose wisely every day what we wear and what we put on our bodies.”
Even if his clothing leads to the subject of some jokes in the family.
“I’m out at my kids’ sports and I’ve gone from wearing long sleeves to their games to now wearing long sleeves and long pants at times and a hat so it may not be the trendiest look,” Sean laughed.
“My kids make fun of me a little bit for it at times. It’s just to me, become the norm for me. I’m not cool dad anyway so I’ve lost those points years ago but it’s what I do and it’s what I have to do really.”
Back up, how is Sean McDermott, head coach of the Buffalo Bills not considered “cool dad”? Doesn’t that earn him some points?
“I would hope but I think it works in reverse really. Yeah so they make fun of me, they make fun of hey dad you know my mannerisms on the sideline, the clapping, the intensity I guess. But they see it at home too believe me,” Sean laughed.
And sometimes you need that funny, distraction, anything to get your mind off batting a horrible disease. But in all seriousness, the mental side of it is just as real as the physical fight.
“Yeah, I struggle with it a lot even today with hey, I want to be around for my kids, for my family and want to support them the right way and raise them the right way with good values and if I’m not around via skin cancer or anything else for that matter but in this case skin cancer I wouldn’t be responsible because of that. So I just want to give them the things that I was raised with and be around in order to do that so doing things right for them is a big part of it,” McDermott said.
That’s also a big reason he wants to raise awareness of skin cancer as much as possible.
“It hit home, it has hit home for me personally and it runs in my family. I’ve lost loved ones to it, Jim Johnson, my grandfather battled with skin cancer as well, lost part of his lip years ago and so the fight has become for me personal because of that but also now because it’s a daily thing for me in terms of my job is primarily outside, at least 50% of it and so if I don’t do those things I probably won’t be around much longer wear the skin or the sun protective clothing and then also the hat and the sunblock,” McDermott explained.
Jim Johnson was the Eagles’ defensive coordinator and McDermott’s mentor during his time in Philadelphia who died of melanoma back in 2009. McDermott even had his initials “JJ” on his custom shoes for my cause my cleats in 2020. The design looks like banana boat sunscreen in order to bring skin cancer prevention to light.
Sean also has conversations with his current players about the importance of protecting your skin.
“I just think players even see it right? These players are younger, they think they’re invincible and I understand that attitude, I’ve been there, we’ve all been there but I think they see it when they see me and they’re saying “coach what’s going on here, what’s going on on your arm?” And it leads to a segue to a good story.”
In addition to that, Sean has also partnered with The Skin Cancer Foundation to expand his reach and awareness even further.
“I think God has a plan for everything and we moved from North Carolina to Buffalo, New York and I think that was God’s way of saying hey I’m gonna save you a couple years on your life, get you out of the sun a little bit.”
Heather Prusak is a sports reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2020. See more of her work here.