Nice try, NFL

A woman I know from the gym told me that when she saw that the NFL has gone pink for Breast Cancer “Awareness” Month, she thought of me. I smiled politely and said thanks; she’s about the age my mom would have been had she lived, so I want to be respectful.  I’m never quite sure how to handle this. On one hand, I don’t want to be the poster girl for breast cancer. On the other hand, I don’t want to seem ungrateful for an acquaintance’s goodwill and kind thoughts. I always limp along in such encounters, then I flee the scene wondering if I reacted in an acceptable way. But, like so much associated with the cancer “journey,” there’s no road map, no guidebook, no real clue on how to handle this stuff.

At first blush, the NFL going pink to support breast cancer seems like a pretty cool thing. I wrote about it last year, and my first impression was how cute! NFL players in pink cleats, gloves, chin guards, skull caps, and sweatbands was so cute! I took it at face value, not being much of a football fan, and I wasn’t bothered by the coaches’ pink ribbons or pink caps, nor by the refs’ pink whistles or the pink tees on the field. However, another year wiser about the pinkwashing phenomenon and another year exhausted by the “awareness” campaign, I’m thinking it’s not so cute. Some of the players have personal ties to breast cancer, having lost a loved one to or had someone they love affected by the dreaded disease. I give them a pass. Guys like Ravens’ wide receiver Jacoby Jones, who has two aunts who have survived breast cancer. He says that wearing pink shoes and pink gloves “means something. For my aunts to fight through that and beat it, that’s some strong women. So I’ll wear it for them.” Another wide receiver, Kyle Williams of the 49ers, will put on the pink for game days in honor of his grandmother, who died from breast cancer in 2005.

If it were just about the National Football League’s largesse and compassion toward a disease that kills nearly 40,000 women in this country every year, I’d say, that’s cool. If it were about players showing their love and admiration for friends and family members who’ve battled breast cancer, I’d be behind them. Even if it were about the NFL designating breast cancer as the charity du jour and earmarking some of the $9.5 million dollars earned in revenue last year, I’m good with that.

However, it’s never that simple, and because breast cancer is the “sexy” cancer, the “glamour” disease, there’s something inherently rotten in the pink plethora splattered all over pro football stadiums across the country. Because breast cancer involves well, yeah, breasts, it easily grabs everyone’s attention, and like so many other things that have been pinkwashed in the name of “awareness,” it means a breast cancer patient or survivor can’t even watch a football game without being smacked in the face, yet again, with the reminder of this damned disease.


In trying to nail down exactly what it is about the pinkwashing of the NFL that bugs me, I came up with this. First and foremost is the emphasis on breast cancer “awareness.” Perhaps the Vikings cheerleader pictured below wants and/or needs everyone to be “aware” of her breasts (BTW, the Denver Broncos cheerleaders are sponsored by Dr Ben Lee, a plastic surgeon who specializes in breast augmentation, and Laura Vikmanis, a Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader, says in her memoir that at least half of the 36 cheerleaders have implants, and a third of those without are planning to get them, and that there was much dissension in the cheerleaders’ locker room between the haves vs the have nots. A Philadelphia plastic surgeon cited Vikmanis’s book on his website in relation to the Philidelphia Eagles cheerleader tryouts. He commented on the rigors of NFL cheerleading: “Twice-a-week weigh ins and the grueling conditioning routines make it hard for women to maintain adequate fat reserves to have proportionate and shapely breasts, so breast implants are often the only way for women on the squad to remain both fit and feminine.” Breast implants are the only way for an NFL cheerleader to look fit and feminine? Wow. We certainly wouldn’t want women out there running around with disproportionate and unshapely breasts, would we?)

The NFL’s “A Crucial Catch” program aims to increase breast cancer “awareness” but I can’t help but ask why we’re so fixated on awareness, when being aware of the disease does nothing to cure it. Why does the program exhort women older than 40 to get an annual mammogram, when mammograms don’t save lives? Does anyone really find the “early detection” message touted by programs such as this to be effective? Sports Illustrated writer Peter King is of like mind, and after he tweeted “Please. Not pink for a month, NFL. A week, great. But a month?” he found himself on the receiving end of a lot of criticism, with people responding outright hatefully. Writer Mary Elizabeth Williams came to King’s defense on She pointed out that it’s possible to hate the disease as well as the commodification. And, as she astutely points out, “because if we didn’t see pink on the football field throughout October, how else would any of us know that it’s breast cancer awareness month? How would we be aware?” Breast Cancer Action executive director Karuna Jaggar adds “We don’t need more awareness; we need solutions. We’re looking for progress that makes a difference in addressing and ending this breast cancer epidemic.” Does anything about A Crucial Catch speak to the breast cancer epidemic?

Secondly, show me the money. Several groups have had a little look-see into the NFL’s A Crucial Catch program and found that while it may be eye-catching, all that pink isn’t doing all that much good for the actual disease or the people suffering from it. Proceeds from the NFL pinking it up go to The American Cancer Society, which sounds pretty good, but Business Week discovered that just 5 percentage of sales will make its way to the ACS. According to Business Week, for every $100 in sales of pink products, $3.54 goes toward research while the NFL keeps approximately $45. Considering the NFL’s healthy revenue last year, and the crazy salaries NFL employees make, this seems particularly stingy. An NFL spokesperson countered the Business Week report by saying that while the league does not dispute the numbers above, it does not profit from the sale of pink merchandise, but that whatever money isn’t donated to the ACS is spent covering the cost of the Crucial Catch program, which is designed to increase “awareness.” Ah yes, the same type of accounting that caused the Susan G Komen for the Cure to fall out of favor with the very women it’s supposed to be helping. Spending such a disproportional amount of money on “awareness” instead of research is nothing short of irresponsible.

My third issue with the NFL going pink may be unpopular, but the fact is, the NFL doesn’t seem overly concerned with women’s issues or our bodies. Exhibit A: the cheerleaders. What exactly does a bunch of tarted-up, implant-sporting women gyrating on the sidelines have to do with the game? Do the fans in the stadium need to be encouraged to cheer for their team? Do the viewers at home require a bit of eye candy to break up the monotony of seeing big, sweaty men up close and in high def? More importantly, did anyone from the NFL think about how breast cancer survivors might feel seeing the NFL cheerleaders decked out in pink boy shorts and itty bitty tshirts that can barely contain all the breastly goodness of those augmented cheerleaders? Does the NFL think that breast cancer survivors need yet another hit to their flagging body images and fledgling self-esteem after radiation mutilates our breasts and surgeries remove them altogether?

Exhibit B: the league is historically soft on players who’ve been charged with crimes against women. Columnist Maura Kelly wrote about this for the New York Daily News, citing cases such as the one against Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor, in which he admitted to raping a 16-year-old girl in 2010. And that of famed quarterback Brett Favre being accused by more than one woman of sexual harassment. And that of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger being accused of sexual assault by two different women. Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth got handsy with a waitress last year and pleaded no contest to her charges of sexual assault. None of these players received more than a slap on the wrist from the National Football League. Yet, during the month of October, the league wants me to believe that it cares about me and million of women across the country? Throw a bunch of pink on the field and call it good?

Nice try, NFL, but I’m not buying it. It’s going to take more than pink accessories and lip service about the importance of screening to convince me that the league really cares about women.

How many more days until October ends?



37 Comments on “Nice try, NFL”

  1. billgncs says:

    the NFL is all about the money and PR. Period, end of sentence. If you read about the old days, it was not uncommon for a marginal player who blew out his knee in a on the road city to be cut and left stranded.

    I love watching NFL football, but the cost it extracts from its employees is steep indeed.

    I too am a bit cynical about its commitment to curing cancer, but I am sure there are sincere individuals within.

  2. David Benbow says:

    Speaking as a Minnesotan (and a non-football fan), I just want to know how our cheerleaders can dress like that and not get frostbitten. I’m sorry that my state has set such a poor example.

  3. Eddie says:

    Nice work! I am especially thrown by the comment “Twice-a-week weigh ins and the grueling conditioning routines make it hard for women to maintain adequate fat reserves to have proportionate and shapely breasts, so breast implants are often the only way for women on the squad to remain both fit and feminine.” So fit and feminine are contradictory? A fit women who has small breasts is not feminine without implants??

    Also, players can be suspended for recreational drug use but sexual assault gets a pass? While both are crimes one harms another person directly while the other only directly affects the perpatrator. Why can the leage get involved with one aspect of a player’s personal life but not another? Surely not because sexual entitlement for players is ok in a boys-will-be-boys way but drugs might hurt the league’s marketability.

    • Once again, Ed, your comment is so wise and so telling. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one struck by this idea that a woman can’t be attractive without perfect breasts — perfect FAKE breasts, I should say. Interesting correlation between players’ drug use and sexual assault, too. It is a boys’ club, run by big boys who see the perpetrators as boys being boys.

      • Eddie says:

        I like what you said but think there is still a layer of this onion to be peeled. The very idea of “perfect” breasts annoys me. Aren’t all breasts, by their very breastiness, perfect?? Big, little, symetrical, asymetrical, they are all perfectly valid examples of breasts. I don’t know, maybe I’m a fool, but i rebel at the idea of standards for things that are unique. On one hand we often celebrate diversity and trumpet the idea that everyone is unique, but then fiercely enforce templates to which these unique beings should conform.

      • Hadn’t thought about that, Ed, but I love your “by their very breastiness” verbage. Maybe you are a fool, but I happen to really like fools! So true about celebrating diversity. Why doesn’t it apply to breasts? Why must women continue to get the message that if they don’t look like a supermodel, they’ve failed?

  4. mmr says:

    Thanks again for another rage against the cancer machine! I too was particularly struck by that sentence that Eddie quotes– basically the person is saying a woman is not feminine without pretty boobs. And THAT is exactly why women are terrified of getting this disease, and why those who have been scarred, radiated, and especially those who’ve had to have their breasts removed to save their life feel so awful. We are told over and over again in subtle ways like that quote, in the displays of all those augmented cheerleader boobs, in the fear and horror of others, that we are no longer feminine. That leads to silence and shame, and while “Pinktober” increased awareness of the prevalence of the disease and the younger and younger victims, it hasn’t done much to stop the disease or even tell people the truth.

    • Marcie, you are EXACTLY right, and the effects of which you speak are nowhere to be found in any “awareness” campaigns, and also why it’s so hard to “get over” having had breast cancer. The psychological effects are way worse than the physical ones. There will be no silence nor shame on this blog!

  5. Ron Burgundy says:

    Nice exhibits

  6. Jody Hicks says:

    Hear, hear!! How can we make these blogs on “awareness” go viral?!!

  7. What a great post and great replies! As I watched our Denver Broncos pull one out last night, I had exactly the same thoughts. Pink? All over the field?

    • Lois, just last night I caught a glimpse of the highlights from the Monday night game shown on a TV in the restaurant in which I was celebrating a dear friend’s birthday. All of the sudden I see a hot pink chin strap and BAM! I went from feeling supreme happiness at being with 2 women I cherish to feeling mad, sad, and manipulated all at once.

  8. Nancy….
    Yay!!! I don’t THINK I’m imagining this and I will forget to comment on this if I grab my copy of Pink Ribbons Inc and try to find the comment….

    Every single thing you outline here stands on its own. Combined, it’s a really big mess. Just, of course, my opinion… which happens to be identical with yours.

    From the point of view of those of us with surgically altered bodies, the cheerleaders are a reminder of what has been stolen from us. Medications that suppress our hormones as the majority of breast cancers are fueled by hormones wreaks havoc on our skin and our hair and can leave us feeling very ummmm… non-sexual (sorry…. I’m just spitting out the truth). Add those real physiological changes from some of the adjuvant meds to the emotional issues of dealing with feeling like the loss of our body parts has stolen a piece of our femininity and you have an absolute minefield.

    As for the NFL in general, I do believe it was pointed out in Pink Ribbons Inc that part of the reason the NFL got involved in this campaign was to “rehabilitate its image” as so many of the players found themselves with legal matters. I’m parroting from memory and I will try to remember to find the source….. (I’m not a fan of sound bites… I like being accurate!!) Their timing of this crucial catch was to stop their bad boy image. In other words, more marketing and where does this cause marketing end… and how damn deep has it become entrenched in our Pink Party. (insert sarcasm font)

    Last thought….. I read a piece by someone who brought out an EXCELLENT point. WHY is the NFL so hell bent on taking care of “breast cancer” when they turn their backs on their own. Many players have traumatic brain injuries and other such issues that can severely impact their lives and they are not very well cared for after their playing days. Indeed, if they are “lower level” players, they are left to their own devices without ever having seen a big payday. I thought that was a good point but I may be totally off topic…..

    Thank you for this… and by the way, MaryBeth Williams is freakin’awesome…. I met her for dinner in NYC one night in a serendipitous tweet up…. She really does rock….. and yes, that was me “name dropping” …

    Love ya… love THIS!


    • mmr says:

      Great points. And Pinktober is just one big long reminder of what’s been stolen. We’re supposed to feel lucky the Big C hasn’t stolen our lives…yet. Is everyone else walking around on the earth supposed to feel lucky that they have ONLY been physically and psychologically maimed?

      Don’t be sorry for talking about the MANY ways the disease and it’s treatment steal from a woman’s sexuality. That is the truth and it ain’t pretty and it shouldn’t be pinkwashed. Pinktober and all this glossing over is why people say “Oh breast cancer, it’s no big deal nowadays” (yes, my neighbor said that; it almost caused me to wish prostate cancer on him).

      Tomorrow is “breast reconstruction awareness” day. Hope we see a blog about that to combat the pretty pink fairy tales being told.

    • Now that you say that, AnneMarie, it makes sense that the NFL would get involved with BC in an effort to rehab its image. Not saying that there’s no sincerity to be found somewhere in the program, buried among the images of in-your-face implants and pink jock straps. Hadn’t thought about the TBI aspect though; my guess would be that the NFL turns its back on its players who suffer a TBI as an avoidance tactic — don’t want that issue up front & center. Interesting how many ripples the great BC debate takes on. Who’d have thought that BC and football would be aligned so closely together? As always, I absolutely LOVE your comments, and you can name drop in this space any time, my dear! xo

  9. Amy P says:

    I understand your frustration and personally, I prefer looking at the sweaty strong men instead of the tarts:)

  10. Octoberfest has turned into Octoberbreast and I’m behind you 100% percent on this and all other posts on the subject.

  11. russliz says:

    Fascinating – and horrifying. I am gobsmacked at the sight of those cheerleaders. Good grief.

    Makes me even more impressed at the way Australian cricket community responded when the national captain’s wife died of BC. A foundation was started in her name that has funded BC nurses to support women (at no cost) through treatment around the country. A practical and genuinely helpful initiative from which I and a great many others have already benefitted. Not just pink spray paint on grass and waffling on about ‘awareness’!!

    • That’s what is so disappointing about the NFL’s program. Nice idea, but misses the mark quite spectacularly, and the league may not even be aware of it. Until today, when I write a letter to the league commissioner explaining why his program is an insult to those of us who’ve suffered from BC, and with ideas on how to make it right. I will be using your idea of the cricket community’s outreach; thanks for sharing!

  12. I so get what you are saying, Nancy. The NFL fiasco goes along with my post this month about the porn industry supporting breast cancer awareness. We don’t need constant reminders of how we don’t stack/rack up against these cheerleader/porn stars. Like you, I’m counting down until October is over. Not only is it pink garbage month, it’s also the month I got married (and we see how THAT ended up in betrayal, tragedy and heartache) and it’s the month my dear daddy died. So let it be over–and soon! xox

  13. Ashley says:


    Great points on the disconnects in NFL’s Pinktober participation. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Your cheerleader points particularly struck me. It just reinforces unhealthy representations of women, much like all of pinktober. Where is the awareness, exactly? And awareness of what? Sometimes I wonder if pink supporters even know what awareness is. Ugh. The whole thing is counter productive.

    • Ashley, the reason I rant incessantly about Pinktober is so unsuspecting people will realize that “awareness” and the pink products do next to nothing to help the cause. Before diagnosis, I was one of those unsuspecting people and thought that saving my pink yogurt lids to mail in was helping. Ha!

  14. […] I’m not a fan of all the breast cancer “awareness” out there (click here or here or here or here for the latest rants), and the month of October wears me out. Big time. However, […]

  15. […] around here lately, with the rantings about how ridiculous Pinktober is, and the caterwauling about how insulting the pinkwashing has become to those of us who’ve walked a mile or two in the pink slippers, and how Breast Cancer […]

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