The NFL and breast cancer: is it really to be applauded?



Sarah Swindell
  Opinions Editor

The month of October is always a time of change. It is the first official month of fall, bringing crunching leaves and changing colors. It is when the National Football League moves into full swing, moving out of divisional games into more conference match ups.

When a home team takes on another in this iconic American sport, sports organizations do not just sport their designated colors. Instead, they accessorize in a vibrant pink with the attached message of breast cancer awareness. This movement has been controversial in its actual philanthropic benefit towards breast cancer, while it is also not well known how it actually came to be.

In 2013, the New York Post published an article explaining the origin story of these philanthropic efforts. It states, “A group of women from the sorority Zeta Tau Alpha from northern Virginia approached the Redskins about doing a breast cancer awareness event in October 1999 … The cause resonated with Snyder, who grew up in a house with three sisters and the mother who raised them.”

Snyder had also experienced the disease first hand in his childhood, compelling him to move beyond the initial request into something more. It was this desire that, over the years, moved from one team, to four teams, to eventually the whole league.

These days, the NFL shows each team’s efforts throughout the month of October. For instance, the Carolina Panthers worked last season with students and hosted various event events to promote awareness and raise funds.  

The Panther’s efforts for the month included partnering with larger organizations, such as “the American Cancer Society, to bring the ‘A Crucial Catch’ experience to local high schools through the “High School A Crucial Catch” fundraising program. The team has also partnered with Belk to sponsor a “Pounding for Pink” race team for the annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on Oct. 3.”

Not to waste the entire day listing something from each of the thirty-two teams, just know that each worked with a more personalized plan throughout the month to help the cause of breast cancer awareness.

From hosting fundraising events, to auctioning off gear worn during the game by athletes, to treating breast cancer survivors to luxury experiences (i.e shopping trips, dinners, appearances during game time), Each NFL team outlines what they plan to do for the cause throughout October down to the individual days.

Still, the NFL gets condemned for “pinkwashing”, which is a fancy term for profiting from the philanthropy. This accusation comes from the bureaucracy of how profits are dispersed because profits are never the amount one pays. After manufacturers and legal royalties are paid, the true profit from the sold or auctioned products can be a small piece of the original figure.

This can be argued for every product put out to support breast cancer awareness, not just the National Football League efforts. However, it can be said that such a supported mainstream event as football should have more monetary success than the small percentages seen across the board.

Whether the NFL forgoed taking their royalties to money being donated from game day tickets, there is some way that American football could do more for the cause. This is true, but then those hundreds of individuals who worked to make those jerseys and maintain stadiums would more than likely see a cut in their pay.

Not every team is like the Green Bay Packers, where the town owns the team and locals volunteer to shovel the stadium out during the winter.

This may be infuriating to some, but I find that any money donated is better than nothing. Their work does not lie primarily in monetary givings. If it was the case, I am sure a lot more money would be donated. This work of the American football teams is rather a moment to honor those who have battled cancer and provide more opportunity for information to be accessed.

To be entirely honest, I do not care how much or little money the National Football League actually raises. I do not care if these athletes do not have the medical authority that some think makes their movement less worthy of our time.

I never expected football players who promote regular screenings to help with early detection or have a medical degree on the side.

The truth of the matter is, it began as a simple movement to raise awareness of a disease that affects one in eight women in their lifetime. Zeta Tau Alpha sorority took their philanthropy to mainstream America, modernizing their efforts to bring forth new revenue and acknowledgment to their cause.

Personally, as someone who lost her mother to stage four metastatic breast cancer at eighteen, any dollar to me is a welcomed dollar. I know what it means to lose someone I love to breast cancer. It was the decision my mother made after conversing with her doctor to refuse treatment after discovering her kidneys were failing her and cancer treatments were not eliminating the disease. It is a choice I have to live with each day.

When I see the pink trappings come gameday and the special events and advertisements on television, it makes me glad. It gives me hope that someday sooner rather than later more efficient treatments will be found, mammograms will be more readily available to all women, and that maybe one less daughter will have to go through what I did at age eleven and at age eighteen.

So I am sorry if you think the National Football League could do more, but to me, any effort at all should be applauded.  

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