Professional athletes are some of the most physically fit and resilient people on the planet. Their training and lifestyle choices make them almost superhuman in their ability to conquer the challenges life throws their way. But, studies are shining light on a potentially deadly challenge athletes face at a higher average rate than most: skin cancer.
A study conducted by The Physiological Society found that athletes who train outdoors exceed the recommended ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure limit by over eight times in the summer and fall months alone. This heightened exposure significantly increases the risk of skin cancer developing in these athletes.
But, despite this heightened risk, surveys conducted in this same study found that only 25% of athletes said that they regularly use sun protection or consider sun damage to be a significant threat.
As someone who has been a recreational athlete my entire life, I found these stats to be shocking. I wanted to hear a first hand account of what sun protection looks like in the professional sporting world so I reached out to my good friend and NFL tight end Kahale Warring to hear his take on the situation. Read what he has to say below.
As professional athletes, I'm sure you and your teammates stay hydrated, warm up properly and elsewise take care of yourselves in order to perform your best. Is sun protection something that is talked about or considered important during training or at games?
“Definitely. Sun protection is important to consider as an athlete for performance purposes if nothing else. Like, we don't want to get sun burnt or have heat exhaustion from the sun because then we can’t play as well.”
Do you have access to sunscreen or other forms of sun protection while training or during games?
“Ya, there is sunscreen available in the locker room and on the training field but I mainly just see the coaches using it. A lot of players seem to prefer to just cover up with training sleeves or long sleeve undershirts if they cover up at all. Our gear usually covers most of the rest [of our bodies].”
Is sun protection something that your coaches or trainers bring up at practices or games?
“Ya, the trainers are always covered in sunscreen and constantly remind us to put some on. But I don't see many players actually wear it. Those that do do it more for performance purposes. There’s not a lot of talk about skin cancer or other ways [sun damage] can affect us in the long term.”
Do you personally think sun protection is important?
“I personally think sun protection is super important. I grew up swimming, playing water polo and just generally being around water a lot. I always had to wear sunscreen or stay covered up with swim shirts or I would burn super bad. I also have family in Hawaii and spend a lot of time out there. Almost all of my relatives and older family friends who grew up out there around the water have had to deal with the long term effects of sun damage in some way or another. Seeing them with cataracts and scars from skin cancers being removed definitely taught me to respect the sun and the damage it can cause.”
It was a pleasure to speak with Kahale about his personal perspective on the importance of sun protection and the role it plays in professional sports. Although it was encouraging to hear that sun protection is more prevalent than I would except, only the short term effects sun damage can cause seem to be considered by most athletes and trainers.
Sun burns suck and can affect how an athlete performs. But skin cancer and other long term effects of sun damage can completely alter how an athlete lives their life.