Film highlights former Cal quarterback's battle with melanoma

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- Documentary film makers Phil Schaaf and Bob Rider say former Cal quarterback Joe Roth was extraordinary in both the way he lived, and the way he died.

"His character, his courage, his humility," remembers Rider.

"It's the cautionary tale. You don't want to end up like Joe. You want to live your life like him, you just don't want to end your life like him," says Schaaf.

Roth was a star at Berkeley in the 1970's, when he died of melanoma at just 21 years old. He'd hidden the severity of his fatal diagnosis to finish out his final season. Schaaf and Rider decided to profile Roth in their documentary, "Don't Quit," both to celebrate his courage, and also spread the message about preventing melanoma.

"One millimeter makes a difference, you don't want it to make the wrong difference," says Schaaf.

Now they're hoping the film will inspire universities around the country to screen athletes for skin cancer. And they say a model program already exists a few miles down the road from Berkeley at Stanford.

Jane Campbell is the goal keeper for Stanford's women's soccer team and is typical of many athletes who make it to that level.

"I would say every day I would spend an average of 3-5 hours in the sun," Campbell remembers.

Now like other Stanford athletes, she's undergone screening as part of a program called Sunsport. It's run jointly by the athletic department and a variety of specialists from Stanford Health Care, including dermatology and the cancer institute.
Dermatology professor Susan Swetter, M.D., says doctors can photograph moles and other evidence of skin damage to create a visual record that can follow an athlete over a life-time.

"I know Jane wants to pursue professional soccer as a career. She can use these photos anywhere and look for change. That's really an important factor in looking for transition into melanoma," says Dr, Swetter.

Athletes and trainers also help spread the word about the importance of sunscreen. If trouble is caught early, Dr. Swetter says recently developed therapies now offer hope to patients that didn't exist in Joe Roth's time.

"We have better drugs for melanoma, but only in the last five years," Dr. Swetter explains.

Meanwhile Schaaf and Rider have shown "Don't Quit" to a variety of audiences, including young athletes. And they're hoping renewed interest in Roth's story might prompt the NCAA to adopt programs similar to Stanford's Sunsport.

"And to get the message of melanoma awareness out to a new generation," says Schaaf.

The University of California also designates one game a season against either USC or UCLA as the Joe Roth game, and uses the platform to spread awareness about Melanoma through public outreach campaigns.

Written and produced by Tim Didion
Copyright © 2022 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.