Bills Head Coach Opens Up About Skin Cancer Battle: ‘It’s Exhausting’

Sean McDermott

Getty Sean McDermott of the Buffalo Bills talks at a press conference during Bills mini camp on June 14, 2022 in Orchard Park, New York.

Even during the peak heat of summer during training camp, Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott is on the field wearing long sleeves and a hat. The 48-year-old coach isn’t making a fashion statement, he’s doing his best to stay alive.

In a recent interview with News 4 Buffalo reporter Heather Prusak, the Bills coach opens up about his ongoing battle against skin cancer, and the precautions he must take on a daily basis to prevent melanoma.

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“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 now, it’s a daily thing in terms of my job is primarily outside, at least 50% of it, so if I don’t (wear sun-protective clothing, long pants, hat, and sunblock) — I probably won’t be around much longer.”

Johnson, a mentor to McDermott at the start of his coaching career, and former defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles, died at age 68 in 2009 following a battle with melanoma. Another former mentor of McDermott’s, Washington Commanders’ head coach Ron Rivera, whom he worked under during his tenure with the Carolina Panthers, continues to battle with squamous cell carcinoma.

In December 2020, McDermott joined the “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign, designing a pair with artist Thomas O’Brien, as reported by The Buffalo News, in which the initials “JJ” for Johnson were printed on one shoe, and “RR” for Rivera, on the other.

Sean McDermott

GettyHead coach Sean McDermott of the Buffalo Bills watches his team from the field during training camp at Highmark Stadium on July 31, 2021 in Orchard Park, New York.

During his interview with Prusak, McDermott shows on camera how he applies sunscreen to his entire face, ears, neck, “and whatever is exposed to the sun that’s not covered by clothing.” As a kid, McDermott admits he defied his parents’ instructions to wear sunscreen because it “looked so cool” to be “tall, dark, and handsome.” But now, he says that carelessness likely contributed to the situation he’s in now.

“It’s… exhausting,” the former high school wrestling champ says of never being able to step outside without being fully protected against the sun. “My wife thinks it’s my challenge in life, and everyone kinda has their challenge, and I’ll take it. There are worse things in life. But it does get tiresome. I have to think about putting a hat on just to take the trash out. Just to be smart.”

McDermott Has Gone Through Surgery & Countless Procedures to Prevent Skin Cancer

This Is Skin Cancer: Sean McDermottSean McDermott, Head Coach of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, is teaming up with The Skin Cancer Foundation to bring attention to the importance of prevention and early detection of the world’s most common cancer. Press Release: For SeanMcDermott, head coach of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, a strong defensive strategy is a key part of…2021-07-26T15:25:14Z

McDermott, who’s been head coach of the Bills since the 2017 NFL season, penned a personal essay for TODAY regarding his battle with skin cancer last year.

“I’ve had squamous cell carcinoma several times. As late as last year during the season, I had three spots on the top of my head,” McDermott wrote.

“I also had Mohs surgery on my nose in 2017. When I was sitting there and the doctor was pulling skin off my nose, I’m like, ‘Now I remember why I should have worn sunblock.’ Even though it was not painful, it’s just not a good feeling. It took a handful of weeks for it to really heal. I have a small scar on my nose now. I’m not sure people can see it, but I can certainly see it.”

While the former all-conference safety out of William & Mary has lost track of how many spots he’s had removed from his arms, hands, or legs, over the years, “It’s a small victory when I go to the dermatologist and I don’t have to have one biopsied — just frozen off with cryotherapy.”

McDermott, who partnered with The Skin Cancer Foundation as an advocate for early detection, noted that he only uses SPF 50 and above, and does self-examinations of his skin “ad nauseam – daily,” because as a fair-skinned person, “sometimes I have to look harder because a freckle might actually be a possible skin cancer issue.”

CBS Sports Ranked McDermott as the Current No. 6 Best Coach in the BNFL

Sean McDermott

GettySean McDermott, head coach of the Buffalo Bills speaks to reporters during the NFL Draft Combine at the Indiana Convention Center on March 1, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

It’s wonderful to hear McDermott is taking care of himself, because his career trajectory is only on the way up. CBS Sports analyst Cody Benjamin ranked as the No. 6 top head coach heading into the 2022 NFL season:

If anyone has the makings of the next Andy Reid, just in terms of steady-handedness year in and year out, it might be McDermott, one of his top disciples. More than just overseeing Josh Allen’s growing stardom at QB, and Buffalo’s aggressive offensive approach, he’s kept his signature unit, the Bills defense, hungry in key games. Crazy things happen, but it feels like a matter of when, not if, McDermott will be contending for a Lombardi Trophy thanks to the well-rounded roster he shepherds.

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