Q&A: Michael Haynes spreads word of prostate cancer awareness

Michael Haynes is a Hall of Fame defensive back who also is a survivor of prostate cancer. Haynes has been cancer-free for five years. He was diagnosed with the disease following a player screening at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

Haynes, who was the director of the NFL's Player Development department for nearly a decade, since has become a spokesperson for the Urology Care Foundation, which previously was known as the American Urology Association Foundation but is still a part of the American Urology Association. He has made it his mission to make men aware of prostate cancer and get them screened regularly for the disease. One of his suggestions to the NFL was to put blue patches on uniforms during September -- which is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month -- in the same way players wear pink during October to support breast cancer awareness.

Last week, Haynes talked to NFL contributing editor Bill Bradley about his life since retiring, his thoughts on making retirement easier for players and his work with Urology Care.

After a Hall of Fame career, what has happened to you since you left the playing field?

When I retired, I had a couple of different jobs. One was helping a couple of guys putting on golf events for prize money. We had a two-year contract with ESPN that put six golf events together. Then I got really lucky and landed on my feet and got a job with Callaway Golf. I was their global licensing manager. From there, I joined the NFL to become vice president of player and employee development. Now I'm doing a little consulting in the health and wellness area, and enjoying it.

When you were the vice president of player and employee development, were you doing some of the things that Troy Vincent is involved in now as head of Player Engagement?

It was almost the exact same area. Actually, it was a little bigger department when I was there. I also oversaw Player Conduct. The counselors that the players worked with all fell under Player Conduct and Development.

What did you learn about the transition period for former players while you were in that job?

Probably the biggest thing is that players were way more alike than they were unalike. The other thing is that everybody expects them to know an awful lot. They're really very young; they haven't experienced a whole heck of a lot just yet. So we shouldn't be surprised at some of the poor decisions that they make.

Did you find many players didn't know what the league could do for them after they retired?

Almost all of the problems (for retiring players) are related to education or lack of knowledge. A lot of it is getting the word out to the players. Getting the information out to them. There's a lot of good things that the league has done and the Players Association has done and set up for the players, but I don't think the players are aware of it a lot of times. That's the biggest challenge. I do know about all of the programs, so when I get a chance to talk to people, the players kind of flock to me with their questions. All the former players are in a position that they should know.

Commissioner Roger Goodell last spring talked about finding ways to make it easier for players to transition out of the league. As somebody who has been a player and an NFL executive, how could this process improve?

I think there should be an exit interview. That's one way to start. My experience when I left the league was that I sent a letter to the league and to the Players Association that said, "I'm done, I'm not coming back next year. What do I need to do?" But I think that it would have been a great opportunity at that point to interview me and answer my questions. Also to make sure that I was aware of certain things that I may not have known that would help me in my retirement. If 250 or so players leave the league every year, there should be a lot of exit interviews. When I say this, I don't mean a letter or a written document. I mean an actual person on the phone or maybe an interview that's set up with me and my wife and my other counselors if I have them, like a conference call. Or, you can say all the guys who are retired between these days, come to this meeting where you can get some information. That way, there are other like-minded guys going through the same thing at the same time with. But just to send me two pages of information, well, most guys are too depressed about their retirement to want to read that stuff.

What led you to work with the Urology Care Foundation?

I was fortunate to be at the very first screening that the NFL and AUA were putting on for players that were held at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While I was there, I was convinced that I should go through the screening, although I had a physical earlier in the year. As a result of my screening, I got educated. The doctor who was there -- Dr. Willie Underwood, whom I've gotten to know quite well -- he basically told me that one in six men is going to be diagnosed with prostate cancer. That's sounds like a lot of men. So I asked how many women would be diagnosed with breast cancer, and he said one in eight. I said, "You mean more men are going to get (cancer of this type) than women are going to get breast cancer?" I had never heard of it.

With that information, when I got back, I called my primary care doctor to give him the results of my screening so he could match it with my history. I shared information about the statistics of one in six. I found out at that point my doctor had been doing screenings on me. Because I was African-American, he knew that I was more likely to get prostate cancer. When I gave him my statistics, he recommended that I get a biopsy, because that's the only way you're going to tell. You're not going to be able to go to a screening and they'll say, "Hey, you've got cancer." They might be able to tell you there's a good chance you have it, but they can't tell you for sure there. The biopsy was positive. I went a few months without saying anything to anybody. What happens with cancer is that people don't think they're going to make it. Well, prostate cancer is one of the cancers that there's a good chance you are going to make it if you catch it early.

My tests showed that we did catch it early, and I was most likely going to be alright. I still had these fears and concerns about my family and all that, what my life was going to be like afterward with the cancer or without a prostate. I had a lot of help from the AUA. ...They helped me a lot. They helped me find a doctor. They helped me get educated about all the different treatment options. Fortunately because of the program, I was able to trust the AUA; otherwise I would be calling one doctor. Because the (AUA) was at the Hall of Fame, they were the ones that I called. ... After my surgery and I got a clean bill of health, the AUA asked me if I would be their spokesperson, and I said, "Absolutely, because we need to get the word out." Most men don't know what the prostate is, what the prostate does, what any of the symptoms are, how many men are likely to get it. This information is really important if you're going to catch it early.

Because of the prostate is located in what is considered a "private part" of a man's body, are guys reluctant to talk about it?

I think almost anything related to health guys are reluctant to talk about. I think in the old days, the way that they had to treat prostate cancer left a lot of guys with incontinence problems and erectile dysfunction and things like that. But it's not the same anymore. With technology, they're having much better results with all of the treatment options. It doesn't have to be a negative in a guy's life. But again, it's all about education. I've talked to guys where they've known prostate cancer runs in their family. Their dad had it. Their older brother had it. Now they have it. And their dad or their brother never shared any information about the disease. Ever. Even though they had been getting checked regularly, they didn't know what the function of the prostate gland was. So men don't talk at all. As part of what we're trying to do as part of this awareness campaign is to change that and normalize discussion about health issues and get guys educated and understand what some of the symptoms are. Definitely, they need to know if it runs in their family. If it runs in their family, it's most likely they're going to get it, too.

What are you doing in this role for Urology Care to spread the word about prostate cancer awareness?

I get involved a lot in programs for hospitals. Also, there's help groups for former football players, like the Pro Player Health Alliance. They go around helping with screenings for sleep apnea and do some heart screenings. I attend some of those. I'll actually do appearances on television shows and radio shows to talk about my experience. I've been fortunate in the past to have guys like Deacon Jones -- rest his soul -- Marcus Allen and Ronnie Lott that have gone on a satellite media tour with me. During the Super Bowl, we have a huge presence there where we go to radio row. A lot of the guys have never had prostate cancer, but they just want to help me get the word out because a family member has had it. A lot of Hall of Famers have helped to go to hospitals as well. We have set up a speakers' bureau. During the month of September, hospitals are looking for guys to come out and bring awareness in their community. They can reach out to a local Hall of Famer and he can share his concern and the importance of early detection.

The NFL has been great with that, too. The NFL Network has helped us do some fundraising through an NFL auction. We're auctioning off different experiences for fans, and the money is going to go to research. In some ways, it's also awareness because it gets guys asking, "Hey, what's this about?" Here's an opportunity to play golf or go to a big event with a player, but when you say the money is going to prostate cancer research, it is again educating people about prostate cancer. It's kind of crazy that you can be an African-American male who is more likely to get prostate cancer and not know anything about the disease. That's terrible. We have to change that. ... I think we're doing a pretty good job, but we can still do better. We can still win this game, if you detect it early.

What's next for your work in this cause? You sound like you're very committed to it.

I am. I assume I'm going to do this until everybody is aware of prostate cancer. I will feel like we've made it when the NFL football players are wearing blue for prostate cancer during the month of September, and pink for breast cancer in the month of October on their different uniforms. That's the two big cancers affecting men and women, with prostate cancer affecting so many men. When people see that color blue, and they think of prostate cancer -- much like they do when they see pink and think of breast cancer -- then I will feel like we will have done a fantastic job.

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