During his 14-year NFL career, Mike Haynes established himself as one of the most reliable and explosive defensive backs and punt returners in the game. He was selected to 9 Pro Bowls, was a 4-time All Pro, and in 1997 Mike was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. But despite his seemingly superhuman powers on the field, he would discover at a Hall of Fame induction ceremony that he was as mortal as the rest of us.

In 2008 the NFL began a prostate screening program in conjunction with the induction. As vice president of the NFL’s Player and Employee Development Program, Haynes felt an obligation to take part. 

“They asked me to take a blood test, to encourage other guys to do it,” he recalls. Haynes’s role was to mentor new recruits and players transitioning out of the NFL, to help them make the most of the resources available to them, one of which was the screening. But he had little reason to suspect he would be diagnosed with cancer, having received excellent marks on a recent physical. “I was in great shape, but I learned that the symptoms are not something you can be aware of,” he says.

Mike Haynes

The diagnosis came as a shock. “I was scared—it took me a while to accept that this was happening to me – it’s not something you talk about.” Fortunately, the doctors were able to see markers in the early stages of his cancer, which allowed Haynes to have the most options as far as treatment. Catching it early also meant that Haynes would have more of a chance to beat the disease. “It’s important to check with your doctors about it and talk to your family to see what’s in your history.”

Nine Pro Bowl appearances, 46 career interceptions and 688 interception yards are prime examples of the strength Haynes has called upon to fight for his life, and it’s his hard-core commitment to his health, training, and diet that shaped Mike’s mindset to help him power through his diagnosis. And now he’s committed himself to help others see the signs and fight the same battle he has.

Prostate cancer affects 1 in 7 men and 1 in 5 African Americans and opening discussion with doctors and family members may be one of the most important life-saving habits. “Talking about it is the most important thing you can do to help your chances of survival,” Mike says who believes establishing networks and support systems for men to educate themselves is vital. ”I was lucky because we caught the cancer so soon that I was able to kill the cancer before it killed me,” says Haynes, but the symptoms of prostate cancer aren’t often something you’re aware of until later stages.” 

Today, Mike is healthy and cancer free and has partnered with the Urology Care Foundation to alert men about the importance of getting screened. With 14% of men diagnosed each year with the disease, Mike and the NFL are especially vigilant in getting the word out. 

Visit knowyourstats.org to learn more about prostate cancer.