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May 19, 2024 4 min read

 

“HE WAS MORE THAN A COACH… 

I met Coach Chop on my first day of Pop Warner football, I was 6 maybe 7 years old. From that moment on, he took me under his wing teaching me more than just football. He took me in as one of his own. He taught me hard work pays off and to be a good person. He was my example — the father I wanted to be to my future children and the husband I wanted to be to my future wife. He showed me what unconditional love was.   

In March of 2019, Coach Chop was diagnosed with melanoma. Soon after, we found out he had metastatic brain cancer caused by the melanoma. A quick four weeks after being diagnosed, at the age of 53, Chop, also known as Michael Stokes, passed away on June 14, 2019. The man that molded me into the man I am today was gone. He was more than my first Pop Warner football coach, he was my father figure. He stood by my side for over 20 years and is one of greatest men I will ever know. My heart is still unrecognizable and will never be the same. In his name, I will continue to raise awareness around melanoma, stress the importance of prevention and wearing sunscreen and be a huge advocate for annual dermatological skin checks. 

My own journey has had some twists and turns. Like many of us, I spent my free time as a kid outdoors: surfing, skateboarding, and of course, running track and playing football. My days were long in the sun; no one told me to put sunscreen on and the importance of it. Let’s be honest, people of color were always told “we didn’t need it”. What I would later find out is that that sentiment could not be further from the truth.   

While a college student at Purdue University, I met my beautiful wife, Devon. Like myself, Devon played an outdoor sport spending long hours on soccer fields with her hair in a bun…leaving her face and ears heavily exposed to the sun. What we both know now; we wish we knew then: ALWAYS APPLY SUNSCREEN. 

One day after football practice, Devon noticed moles on my skin that “did not look good” to her. She immediately called their family dermatologist, Dr. Monique Cohn, back in her home state of Ohio, who would soon find and remove precancerous moles from my abdomen. She then informed me that it is a myth that people with darker skin tones do not get skin cancer, and, in fact, people of color often get diagnosed with skin cancers late, making it harder to treat. She stressed the use of sunscreen and because of my new history requested to see me every 6 months for a skin check. With this knowledge I began to respect both my body and the sun in new ways.   

Because of my job, playing football in the NFL for the Miami Dolphins, I still spend hours a day in the sun. I just do it differently now. Just like putting on my cleats, putting on my sunscreen has become part of my routine. Off the field, I still enjoy being outdoors whether it’s playing golf or spending time with my three sons whom I have shared my knowledge of wearing sunscreen…the knowledge Coach Chop unknowingly gave to me. Our boys are young, but already know the importance of wearing sunscreen. Knowledge is wealth and we don’t play until our skin is protected. 

My last checkup with my dermatologist was a great one. No suspicious moles. However, Devon’s went a bit differently. Her long hours playing soccer outdoors are still catching up with her. She had to have moles removed from her back and ear. Both areas came back precancerous. She had to return 3 times to have skin removed from her ear, lending way to healthy skin tissue known as the “margin of safety”. With our experience and knowledge we now have, both Devon and I feel it is important to inform young athletes playing sports outdoors about the importance of wearing sunscreen, a hat and protecting their skin.  

In his honor…Since Coach Chop’s passing from melanoma and my own experience, I have worked closely with the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) to raise both awareness and funds for melanoma research. I am extremely honored and humbled to be the 2024 spokesperson for the MRF’s #GetNaked campaign. With the help of the platform I have been blessed with, I hope to raise awareness of the importance of skin checks, preventing skin cancer and the importance of wearing sunscreen for ALL skin tones. 

THIS IS YOUR SIGN TO MAKE AN APPOINTMENT WITH A DERMATOLOGIST, #GETNAKED, AND GET YOUR SKIN CHECKED.  It may save your life.”

– Raheem Mostert  

https://melanoma.org/

https://melanoma.org/news-press/getnaked-raheem-mostert/ 

https://melanoma.org/melanoma-education/skin-of-color/

https://melanoma.org/melanoma-education/melanoma-awareness/

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