The initiative began in earnest more than a decade ago when baseball's top executive was diagnosed with a severe case of melanoma. It gained momentum in recent years when a pair of Hall of Famers disclosed that they developed skin cancer after playing sunscreen-free for decades, unaware – like nearly all of their fellow ballplayers – of the danger in doing so.
Today, sun-protection messaging is accelerating, with major league teams making it a point to raise awareness among their fans, many of whom often sit for hours exposed to the strong summer sun. And now the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves are spreading the word (and the sunblock) with the recent installations of free sunscreen dispensers throughout their ballparks, constituting the latest advances in MLB's Play Sun Smart campaign.
In June, the Braves partnered with the American Cancer Society to announce the unveiling of 10 dispensing stations at Atlanta's Sun Trust Park. Less than two weeks prior, the Phillies installed a dozen sunscreen stations at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, with franchise legend Mike Schmidt throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to highlight the healthcare effort.
"Take it from me, someone who spent his life in the sun without sunscreen," said Schmidt, the 67-year-old Hall of Fame third baseman, (pictured; photo credit: RDK Melanoma Foundation) who was found to have Stage 3 melanoma in 2013. "I paid an enormous price," he said in a public service announcement played during Melanoma Awareness Day on May 28.
Schmidt, a part-time resident of Jupiter, Fla. who is cancer-free today, is the public face for RDK Melanoma Foundation, which is seeking to educate the public about skin cancer's danger and how fans can protect themselves.
“Mike had a vision of making his city the first Sun Smart America City and inspiring Philadelphians to be sun smart,” said Stacy Ostrau, RDK's executive director. “We plan on taking this program to other cities all across the United States as we spread the message of sun safety and help save lives!”
Schmidt's participation follows that of Johnny Bench, who became the official spokesperson for the Play Sun Smart program in 2012. Teaming with the American Academy of Dermatology, the legendary Cincinnati Reds catcher helped raise the program's visibility by revealing that he had surgery to treat basal cell carcinoma on both of his lower eyelids. While his condition was not life-threatening, only potentially disfiguring, Bench committed himself to help educate the public.
"I thank Commissioner Selig," Bench said when he got involved, "for this terrific joint program that educates and raises awareness about skin cancer issues.”
Bench was referring to baseball's former chief, Bud Selig, who himself was diagnosed with very dangerous Stage 4 melanoma on his forehead in 2004, and as a result pushed the Play Sun Smart initiative to greater heights. Selig was treated and cleared by doctors by the end of that year, but his life-threatening experience created greater urgency for the game to help educate players and the baseball public to the dangers of unprotected sun exposure.
There are many ways to protect yourself from the damaging effects of the sun – as well as many misperceptions about what works and what doesn't. Major League Baseball has summarized it all, including tips on what clothing to wear (since some "ultraviolet light can penetrate T-shirts and other clothing"). This page also has the "ABCDE: Warning Signs of Melanoma" – referring to the Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter & Evolving aspects of moles – which is essential information for everyone to know.