Today’s column is about former BYU/NFL lineman Bart Oates and his work as president of the NFL Alumni Association, but first … a community-service break.
Attention, men: Oates wants you to get that prostate checkup you keep putting off. Act now, and that visit will be free. It could save your life. Details forthcoming.
Maybe you remember Oates. He played center, one of the most anonymous positions in sports and — this might surprise you — one of the most demanding positions on the field, requiring intelligence, quick thinking and awareness (he’s responsible for changing blocking schemes seconds before the snap). At least two things distinguished Oates’ career: He had a knack for winning rings, and he was invulnerable.
He won four conference championships in four years with BYU; two USFL championships in three years with the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars; and three Super Bowl championships in 11 NFL seasons. After winning two Super Bowls with the Giants, he signed with the 49ers and won another one that year with his former BYU teammate, Steve Young. He also was selected to play in five Pro Bowls.
His NFL teams compiled an 11-year regular-season record of 114-61, qualified for the playoffs seven times and produced a playoff record of 11-4. His USFL teams were 41-12-1 in the regular season and 7-1 in the playoffs.
Oates’ football career was one big victory lap.
Along the way, he was indestructible. During those 11 years in the NFL he never missed a game, despite playing a position that put him right in the middle of the trenches. It was uncanny. Out of a possible 172 games (there was one strike-shortened season), he played in 172 games.
He retired from football in 1995 at the age of 37, unscathed.
“I had a great run,” he says. “I was in the right place at the right time and got recognized. I could have been on lousy teams and made no Pro Bowls. I was very blessed.”
The football season was probably the easiest part of his yearly routine in those days. In the offseason, he attended law school while also preparing for the next football season. That meant showing up at the team’s practice facility when it opened at 6 a.m., several hours before his teammates arrived, to do strength and conditioning work, and then he went to school.
“It was a long offseason,” he says. “When I played, we weren’t paid seven-figure salaries. I knew when I was done playing I was going to have to work.”
He graduated from Seton Hall Law School magna cum laude and practiced law during his last five years in the NFL. His specialty is real estate law.
That’s what he was doing when the NFL called. Last December he took a hiatus from his law practice to accept a full-time job as president of the NFL Alumni Association. The purpose of the NFLAA is to assist former players in their post-NFL life, as well as support various youth-related local charities throughout the country with fundraising events.
This year, the NFLAA partnered with Cancer Treatment Centers of America and LabCorp to encourage men to seek regular prostate exams, which should be part of an annual physical. LabCorp is offering free prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests for the first 1,500 men who sign up. They can register online.
“It’s a small price to pay for making sure you’re not that person who doesn’t know there is an issue,” says Oates. “Once you (have symptoms), it’s usually progressed and it becomes very intrusive to treat it. If you catch it early, it’s easily treatable and curable. We’re using our platform to promote this.”
The American Cancer Society recommends screenings for 40-year-old men with more than one first-degree relative (father, brother or son) who had prostate cancer at an early age (younger than 65); men age 50 who are African-American and/or have a first-degree relative with prostate cancer; men age 50 at average risk for prostate cancer.
According to Cancer.Net, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men (behind skin cancer) and an estimated 164,690 U.S. men will be diagnosed with the disease this year.
The genesis of this promotion by the NFLAA is the recognition that many former players do not seek regular physicals and/or prostate exams. As Oates puts it, “I was 37 when I retired and I had never had to schedule a doctor’s appointment or filled out an insurance form. It had all been done for me. Every year we’d get a physical at mini camp. … We want to focus on caring for our own, and one of the things our guys are susceptible to is prostate cancer.”
The 59-year-old Oates, who is flying to Utah this week to meet with the Utah NFLAA (headed by president Scott Mitchell and vice president Jason Buck), is urging men — ex-players and non-players — to make that call.