NFL Hall of Famer Mike Haynes is known for many things. He’s known for a stellar NFL career in which he played for the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Raiders. He’s known for his prowess at corner back. He is known for his 46 career interceptions that helped him get inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997. But now he is known for more than football. Haynes is a major advocate for prostate cancer awareness and early detection, and he works hard to make it a priority. I caught up with him at Super Bowl 50 to learn more.
“For me it really started at the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” said Haynes. “I go to the Hall of Fame every year. The NFL and the American Neurological Association, now the Urology Care Foundation, had this screening that they had joined hands to try and help guys with this and started doing these screenings for retired players. At the time I worked at the NFL, had really no real reason to be at this screening, just had a physical three months earlier, and my boss suggested I go down there and maybe I could encourage some guys to get involved in this screening.”
Though he had just had a physical, Haynes was encouraged to take the test anyway, and it’s a good thing he did.
“When I got back home, I called my primary care physician, asked him what my baseline PSA was. We had this conversation about past history and everything. He says, ‘Well Mike, since you are African American, let’s get you a biopsy.’… [T]hey did 12 core samples, six on each side of my urethra, and they found cancer in nine of the 12 places…I caught it early and I had plenty of time to decide what I wanted to do. I decided to get a radical prostectomy and had my prostate removed, and I did it in San Diego. Everything went well, and after the surgery, the AUA, their foundation is now called Urology Care, asked if I would consider being a spokesperson.”
And so a spokesperson Haynes became, while recruiting others to do the same.
“…[I]n a short period of time [I] learned an awful lot about prostate cancer, didn’t know why men didn’t talk about it that had it if so many men are going to have it, or had it. I wanted to make a difference, and so I knew that I could ask other football players to help me, and that’s what I’ve been able to do…Guys like Ronnie Lot, Marcus Allen, Michael Irving, Chris Carter, Harry Carson, many, many others…We’ve been out trying to spread the word, encourage men to find out their family history, because prostate cancer caught early is treatable. Curable…We try to make sure that guys are doing what they can, finding out as early as they can…Be responsible and start to talk to your doctor about it.”
Haynes recommends, via the American Urological Association (AUA), that men with prostate cancer in their family talk to their doctor and do a screening at 40, while those without a family history should begin the process around the age of 50. The NFL is doing a lot to raise awareness, but it’s not quite to the level of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, where every team is wearing pink in October.
“I don’t think that there will be a month where guys are wearing blue for prostate cancer, but what we’re trying to do, or what I try to do now is to educate women because also they may be the ones that’ll get their husband or boyfriend to go to the doctor, or their son to go to the doctor and try to deal with this in the early stages instead of the latter stages.”
Let’s talk a little football. Part of the reason Haynes is such a great spokesperson is he is well respected for his career on and off the field, a career that earned him a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I would imagine that learning you’ve been elected to Canton is something one never forgets, though things happen differently today than they did then.
“I was at the PGA Golf Show in Orlando, Florida. I was working for Callaway Golf at the time as their global licensing manager, and all finalists were recommended to be near a phone. Unlike today, if you’re a finalist they probably brought you here for the Super Bowl…Even when I was drafted, they didn’t fly me to New York and say, “Hey, we’re going to sit in this room,” And come out and have the commissioner hold up my Jersey and all that stuff. I didn’t get any of that…[When I was drafted] my phone rang, I woke up and, “Hello, who’s this?” “Hi Mike, this is the New England Patriots. I’m Pat Horne the PR man, hold for coach Fairbanks.”
Hall of Fame and Draft announcements are not the only changes in the NFL since Haynes was a player.
“I think they have just gotten better in the way that they commercialize the business…You’ve seen how many different ways that people are putting logos on things and generating interest and selling those things…[T]he way you view television is completely different from the time I played. The number of networks you can watch sporting events on, that’s increased like crazy…Social media has changed…Now we have millennials…To attract them into football and try to grow the sport, thinking of their interests, you have to change the way you do things…I think the NFL is very aware of those differences, and they do a very good job marketing to those differences.”
As a former cornerback watching today’s NFL stars, Haynes is very aware of the challenges at that position.
“They all excite me, because I understand the challenge of being a great cornerback, or even being an average corner back…[O]ftentimes people say, ‘Who are the best corner backs in the league?’ The ones that you would say are the best in the league are the same ones I would say, but, because I’ve played, I also know that the best cornerback could be on the worst team in the NFL, has no pass rush, has a lousy offense, and it’s just really tough for him out there. You give a receiver all day to get open and a quarterback all day to throw, it’s a nightmare to play in the secondary.”
And what advice would Haynes give to players at all positions?
“Understand that the average career is only two and a half years, and pick your friends wisely. Start thinking about what you’re going to do early on, and start to think about the network of people that are maybe already doing that, start to maybe talk to them, talk with people who have been successful in that area, and try to understand what it’s going to take to be successful. In other words, I say start right away of thinking that you’re not going to play forever.”
Excellent advice, and advice I hope is heeded throughout the league. Haynes has done an excellent job of succeeding beyond the NFL both personally and professionally. The father of six and grandfather of three keeps very busy.
“I spend a lot of time with my kids, and I do a lot of consulting, mainly in the area of health and wellness. Once I had my bout with prostate cancer, I decided to change my life a lot. I set goals with regard to my lifestyle. I want to live to be 125, so I listened to when people were talking about health issues…Your information can help me live longer, I want to know about it. That’s what I do, and I help a lot of companies that have…revolutionary products that athletes need to know about, or football fans need to know about…For the most part, the thing I’m most passionate about is getting our story out about prostate cancer and saving lives, really.”
He is certainly the MVP of that.
Catch up on more of my “Under the Helmet” Interviews with:
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- Joanne Pasternack, V.P. & E.D. Community Relations & 49ers Foundation
- 49ers’ Arik Armstead
- 49ers’ Vernon Davis
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