October 28, 2013


The NFL's Pinkwashing Problem (PAT GAROFALO, October 27, 2013, US News)

According to an analysis by Business Insider, just 8 percent of the money spent on the plethora of pink gear being sold by the NFL actually winds up going towards cancer research at the American Cancer Society, the supposed beneficiary of the league's efforts. Since 2009, when pink first appeared on the field, the NFL has donated a grand total of $4.5 million towards the cause, while the league made $9 billion (that's billion, with a b) in revenue last year alone. As Business Insider's Cork Gaines wrote, "if the point is to actually help fight cancer, fans would have a much bigger impact if they skipped the NFL and donated directly to the ACS or other organizations working to fight cancer."

But an unclear picture regarding the distribution of funds is not the only reason the NFL's pink October is so maddening. Another is its elevation of one disease to the explicit exclusion of all others. Nothing symbolized that situation more perfectly than Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall and his green shoes.

Marshall, who has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, wanted to wear green kicks during a game on October 10 in support of Mental Health Awareness Week, which ran from October 6 to 12. The NFL fined him $10,500 for violating uniform protocol (a fine which Marshall happily paid and then matched with a donation to charity). The NFL is so pink-centric that one player wearing a pair of shoes for a different cause was seen as something worthy of punishment. Initially, the league even looked to prevent Marshall from playing entirely if he sported the green shoes, before relenting and settling on just a fine.

And mental health isn't the only cause steamrolled by the pink NFL juggernaut. "I was pretty sure we were toast," said Rita Smith, the executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, upon first seeing the NFL go pink. "There was no way we were ever gonna match them." The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence also uses October as its awareness month, with purple being its color of choice. As Ann Friedman noted in New York Magazine, domestic violence will actually affect more women than breast cancer, but attempts to prevent the former are losing fundraising ground to the latter, in large part due to the pinkification of October that gets a serious boost from the NFL's efforts.

By focusing solely on breast cancer year after year - and by making its campaign mostly about raising the ever-ambiguous "awareness" of the disease, as if something affecting hundreds of thousands of women is somehow a secret - while sending little in the way of real funds towards research, how much good the NFL is doing is an open question. Is all this "awareness" actually worth anything? And if it is, why not try and highlight a lesser known set of diseases next year, or perhaps a problem that is not even medical? 

Posted by at October 28, 2013 4:46 PM

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