Phil Simms took some big hits as a quarterback for the New York Giants, but even a 15-year pro football career, a Super Bowl MVP award, and an NFL Hall of Fame induction couldn’t prepare him for a cancer diagnosis.
Three years ago, when his daughter encouraged him to visit a dermatologist, the doctor took one look at the now-CBS football analyst and said, “I’m looking at a cancer patient.” Since then, Simms has drastically changed the way he treats his skin, and for the second straight year, he’s assisting former NFL coach Bill Cowher in the re-launch of Melanoma Exposed: Screen. Protect. Know. Tell., a national campaign that encourages Americans, especially men, to get screened for skin cancer.
May is Melanoma Awareness Month and while everyone is at risk of developing melanoma, men are almost twice as likely to die from the disease as women. Still, studies have shown that only 9 percent of men consider melanoma a health risk.
But Simms isn’t one of those guys—he now gets screened regularly and has had multiple surgeries to protect against melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. He took some time to talk to Men’s Fitness about living with skin cancer and, of course, we got to drill him about football, too.
Men’s Fitness: Phil, tell us what made you decide to get screened.
Phil Simms: My daughter went to the dermatologist and she told me these things and she said, ‘You know what, Dad, you should go,’ and I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to go,’ and I’m glad I did. That was more than three years ago and I’ve really been constantly, or as much as I can take it, doing things to correct the problems that I’ve had. I’ve had a couple of Mohs surgeries. One was up in my hairline, one off the back of my neck.
It seems that there’s a stigma associated with guys going to the dermatologist. Why do you think so many men don’t get checked out?
Men are stubborn. Men think, ‘Oh, I can’t go see a dermatologist, only women do that.’ So that’s one thing. Another is that we don’t have time. And the biggest thing—and I do this all the time—is that we’re afraid to know. That’s a big deal.
How has the way you treat your skin changed on a daily basis?
I don’t really go in the sun at all and I tell people that. In the last few years, I’ve changed my skin because I’ve taken better care of it. I can see the difference. It wasn’t just my face; I’ve had to take treatment on my chest, my shoulders, my hands; even from the knee down.
How did you protect yourself when you were playing?
Playing in the NFL, I did wear a lot of sunscreen. I’m not exaggerating. I’d go through a bottle of sunscreen every few days. I would just smash it all over my neck and everywhere, all over my face. It was brutal because it gets in your eyes. It’s everywhere, but you have to be cognizant.
OK, let’s talk football. What’d you think of the NFL Draft?
I looked at Geno Smith [drafted by the New York Jets], and I looked at all the quarterbacks that were coming out, and he’s the best one. But the problem with quarterbacks is this: Yeah, they can take care of themselves, but they’re at the mercy of their coaches and their teammates just as much as they are taking care of themselves, so it’s pretty tough for quarterbacks.
What do you mean that they’re at the mercy of everyone else?
I don’t care how good you are, if you don’t get protection, you’re not going to be good. You’re not going to be good if the coaches and organization draft bad players. You’re not going to get noted for how good you are because you’re not going to win games. If the coaches have a bad system in place for you, you just can’t excel when you’re put in those kinds of situations.
You talked about Geno Smith and being in an offense that you can’t flourish in. What about Tim Tebow being released by the New York Jets?
Look, it’s a rough league. I’m not surprised they let him go. They wanted to get a trade for him. They were hoping to get a trade for him before then. The organization, the new organization of the Jets, they did what they thought was the best thing for the organization. Is it cool? Is it mean? I don’t know. I’m 57, I’ve seen everything in football. It’s just rough.
Do you think Tebow will find a place as a quarterback in the league?
I think it’s going to be very tough for a team to sign him as a quarterback. If you really want to play, tell a team that you’re willing to do whatever. Come in and tell them you’ll be some type of receiver, some type of different player. If you do that you never know what it could grow into. It may work out where you get a chance to be a quarterback again. If you hold hard and true and say, ‘Nope, I’m strictly a quarterback,’ then I think it’s going to be tough.