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Melanoma and Sports

"Fans. Coaches. Players. Wear suntan lotion." - Bengals.com

And with those words, the former Cincinnati Bengals head coach left a message for the community before passing away of metastatic melanoma at the age of 74. I remember Coach Wyche as an outspoken man with strong opinions both on and off the field. He was controversial and innovative and took his team to the Super Bowl. I appreciate his farewell message. He wanted people to protect themselves.

Sounding the alarm

When I read this, it struck me that Coach Wyche wanted to warn others about dangerous tanning practices, about the effects of sitting out in the sun at games and practices. He was sounding the alarm that sun exposure and sports seem to go hand-in-hand. More on this in a bit.

Tanning is not healthy

I just wanted to take his message a step further to make things clear. There is no such thing as safe tanning. There is no such thing as a healthy glow. Sunscreen is not suntan lotion. It is not designed to produce a “healthy” tan because that is an oxymoron. Tanning is evidence of skin damage. The medical community has been pretty clear about this.1

Base tans are baseless

Getting a “base tan” to keep you from burning when you are going on a cruise or a trip to Florida is damaging your skin. This was the fallacy that I bought into as a college student. It propelled me to lay out on our fraternity house roof and go to tanning salons in the 1980s. I cringe at this message now. Be warned.

Outdoor sports and the sun

Back to sports and sun exposure. Whether it’s winter sports like skiing or outdoor skating or summer sports like baseball or golf, playing sports will expose you to dangerous UV sun rays. Whether you live in the city and play hoops at the park or you live in the country and drop a line in the local pond, you are susceptible to dangerous sun exposure. The sun’s rays can hit you directly or be deflected off water or snow. You need to protect yourself.

Free sunscreen at the park

Free sunscreen should be available at beaches, golf courses, ball games, state parks. In short, any place someone is playing sports, they should be sporting sunscreen as well. Melanoma diagnoses continue to rise in our country and whether this is due to an increasing awareness leading to detection or an actual rise in incidence has been debated. The reality is that this is a public health issue and should be treated as such.

Education is key

And not just for players and performers, any place where people gather outside for hours is a good place for free sunscreen. It is also important to educate fans, players, and coaches about how to properly use sunscreen. It is critical to understand that sunscreen’s effectiveness diminishes with swimming or sweating and should be reapplied.

Missed the memo

I remember coming back from little league games as a child sporting sunburned arms and my friends would joke that I had a “farmer’s tan.” I would correct them by saying that I had a “champion’s tan” and remind them of my three hits and four scoreless innings pitched. I took pride in my multi-toned appearance as evidence of a game well played. Sadly, Coach Wyche’s message missed me by 45 years.

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