Calling Andre Tippett a “tough guy” may be an understatement.
The NFL Hall of Famer, five-time Pro Bowl selection, and former Patriots linebacker owns a highlight reel of bone-crushing hits, tackles, and sacks. An intimidating 6 feet 3 inches — though a little north of the 231 pounds he weighed in at during his playing days — Tippett’s appearance personifies macho, even 19 years after retiring.
Tippett, 52, says the key to his robust health is vulnerability.
The refusal of many men to seek medical care and undergo preventive treatment — “tough guy syndrome,” as Tippett describes it — is costing too many lives to preventable disease and illness.
Tippett discussed his health regimen and the importance of seeking out medical care as the keynote speaker at Sunday’s Men’s Health Summit, hosted by the Whittier Street Health Center in Roxbury.
More than 300 people attended the center’s 11th annual summit, which included a health fair; free blood pressure, glaucoma, and prostate cancer screenings; and presentation of the center’s Health Champions Award.
“As men we’re not raised to be worried about our health,” Tippett said. “But all it takes is one major health issue to ruin you financially.”
In minority communities, the problem is often worse.
Black and Hispanic men have lower five-year survival rates for lung, colon, and pancreatic cancer than white men, according to the US Office of Minority Health. Black men are 1.5 times as likely to contract and 2.4 times as likely to die from prostate cancer than white men.
“I’ve been an athlete for 43 years,” he said. “But I still need to work out every day. As an African-American man, I need to know that I’m more than twice as likely to die of prostate cancer.”
The key to beating most illness and disease, especially those that commonly plague men, such as colon and prostate cancer, is early detection, said Frederica Williams, president and chief executive of the health center, which serves roughly 19,000 clients each year.
The center focuses on outreach to men, who make up 47 percent of its clientele, an unusually high percentage, Williams said.
About 34 percent of those seen at the health center have no medical insurance, but the even greater issue, Williams said, is that half of the center’s visitors are seeing a primary care physician for the first time in their adulthood.
“Some of the people who have the worst undetected chronic illness have the best insurance,” Williams said.
The summit focused largely on holistic health, urging men to focus not only on physical health, but also on managing their emotional and mental needs.
“As doctors, we don’t always practice what we preach,” said Dr. Mothusi Chilume, the health center’s family physician, who sat on the panel.
In addition to losing weight, Chilume said he picked up a new hobby, drumming lessons, to balance out a heavy work schedule as part of his renewed focus on personal health.
“Sometimes I’ve got to remember to take a step back, and take some time for myself,” he said.
For Tippett, his free time is spent mastering uechi-ryu, a Japanese form of karate he has been doing for 30 years.
The “moving meditation,” as he calls it, helps Tippett clear his mind and stay agile.
“I’m getting older, but this body can still move faster then the youngest guys in my dojo.” he said.