By Tajinder Rathor – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student
Every October, the National Football League (NFL) takes part in Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The NFL, along with its owners, players, and the NFL Players Association teams up with the American Cancer Society to run a campaign called “A Crucial Catch.” The campaign is “committed to saving lives from breast cancer and addressing the unequal burden of cancer in underserved communities.”
Many associate the colour pink with breast cancer, and the NFL and the American Cancer Society use this association to raise breast cancer awareness. Throughout the month of October, all players, coaches, and officials take part in the campaign by wearing pink apparel – pink cleats, pink hats, pink gloves, pink finer tape, pink socks etc. – at NFL games. Teams also support the cause by having additional branding on the field and within the stadium. Fans have the opportunity to support the cause by purchasing branded merchandise. The NFL donates 100% of the proceeds to the American Cancer Society.
This is a great cause, but the NFL has recently come under fire for a decision made by league executives. DeAngelo Williams, a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, lost his mother to breast cancer in 2014. To support the campaign, Williams requested that he be able to wear pink throughout the entire season. This request was denied by the NFL. The league went on to say that Section 4 of Rule 5 of the 2015 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League would not allow a player to wear “non-team colours” during a football game. The league also informed Williams that he would be subject to a monetary fine if he were to disregard the league’s equipment rules.
Such a decision seems counter-intuitive to the goal of the campaign. As already mentioned, and explicitly stated on the NFL website, the league claims to be “committed to saving lives from breast cancer and addressing the unequal burden of cancer in underserved communities.” While the league ought to be commended for its “A Crucial Catch” campaign, it arguably does come across a little petty to prohibit a player from showing his commitment to fighting breast cancer throughout the entire season.
Instead, executives decided to strictly abide by the equipment rules and force Williams to wear his team colours. Some even argue that the decision was made because it would not fit with the image and brand of the NFL. Millions of people watch NFL games every week. Who would want to see one player on the field standing out from the rest of his team in pink cleats or pink socks; a colour coordinated team looks much better.
Williams has taken this decision in stride. Instead of trying to fight the NFL on this issue, he has come up with creative ways to get around the rules. He will be dying the tips of his dreadlocks pink and may resort to painting his nails pink. There are no “equipment” rules that stipulate the colour of a player’s hair and/or nails. He will also be paying for 53 mammograms – in memory of his mother, who was 53 years old when she passed away.