I’ve already made it clear that I cannot escape sports in my house, especially baseball and football. During that magic time of year when the baseball post-season overlaps with the early NFL season, it is impossible to ignore what’s happening in professional athletics.
On this football Sunday, I was actually holed up in my office working on my dissertation analysis, so I avoided much of the action on television until late afternoon when the Patriots game was on in the background. And the players were wearing hot pink. Hot. Pink. I thought maybe there had been a modification to their uniforms or something (though I know professional uniforms are somewhat sacred). Looking closer, I saw players were wearing pink arm bands, shoes, waistbands, hats. This could not be related to breast cancer and the Komen Foundation, could it? One player had even shaved the breast cancer ribbon into his hair.
The stunt was part of NFL Pink, a campaign co-sponsored by the NFL and the American Cancer Society to fight against breast cancer. And since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it seemed fitting that on this first Sunday of the month players got into the breast cancer fighting spirit by showing solidarity and donning hot pink anything. This trend to “raise awareness” via clothing, buttons and the like has likely been written about in the popular press. However, this display is particularly troubling for several reasons.
First, while breast cancer (all cancer really) is a terrible disease, it is not the only disease plaguing women. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts and Figures 2012 report, more women die from respiratory (lung) and digestive (stomach) cancer than they do from breast cancer.
These cancers aren’t as sexy as breast cancer, it seems. Lung and stomach cancers share the same “awareness” month—November. Somehow, I don’t see awareness campaigns about these cancers competing with Thanksgiving and Christmas marketing on the national stage. Websites providing lung and stomach cancer support and resources show no grand plans to raise awareness in the month of November compared to the NFL Pink campaign.
Beyond the inequity in awareness of more deadly cancers, there is the inequity in funding resources to detect breast cancer at all. The Susan G. Komen Foundation, like the NFL, is using the month of October to sponsor “pink party” fundraising events around the country. However, the money raised by Susan G. Komen for the Cure is not fully funneled back into treatment and services. Though they do sponsor research grants, they also spend more on their Race for the Cure related programs than they do on Health Screening services. After the organization first pulled and then restored funding to Planned Parenthood earlier this year, I find it extra appalling that more money does not get funneled into the organization that performs actual screening and detection.
All the inequities aside, football is a violent sport. Do I feel inspired to action by watching grown men dressed in hot pink tackling one another? Using violence to incite awareness is equally distressing as using sex to “raise awareness” as breast cancer organizations did two years ago during the month of October. Is this display meant to galvanize the masses who worship in the stadium on Sunday? In the end, calling this show of solidarity “awareness” makes supporting the cause feel cheap.