The NFL's Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign Is Still a Sham


With all this shutdown hulabaloo, I almost forgot that October marks the annual pink barf tornado otherwise known as Breast Cancer Awareness month, a special time when corporations exploit our feelings of helplessness in the face of life’s senseless brutality by directing people to Fight Cancer through the purchase of products. One of the most visible cheerleaders of *aWaReNeSs* has been the NFL’s A Crucial Catch program, a bloated, inefficient, and unintentionally ironic program that does more to bolster the NFL’s reputation than it’s ever done for cancer patients. Sky, blue. Water, wet. Etc.

Last year, it was revealed that the Crucial Catch charity only donates a teeny percentage of its proceeds to actual cancer charities. In fact, the NFL won’t even say for sure what percentage of its Crucial Catch-related merchandise even goes to “fighting cancer.” From SportsOnEarth,

You’d need to use scientific notation with negative exponents to express what percentage of the NFL’s annual revenues it contributes via A Crucial Catch. The campaign raised a combined $4.5 million during its first four years (2009-2012), including $1.5 million last year. League-wide revenues approached $8 billion in 2009, when NFL teams earned a median profit of $28.6 million, according to The Economics of the National Football League, a 2012 book edited by Kevin G. Quinn. (The NFL says it plans to donate $23 million to all community causes this year — less than one percent of its likely revenues.)

A Crucial Catch is much more about reminding female fans that they’re welcome to spend their money on NFL merchandise and presenting a multi-billion dollar industry that’s essentially a concussion factory as somehow concerned about public health, argues SoE’s Ryan Basen. It’s brilliant as a marketing scheme, but dishonest as a charitable organization.

So what happens to the rest of that money the NFL raises by slinging pink crap? The rest just gets cycled back into “maintaining the program,” according to a spokesperson for A Crucial Catch. What comprises “maintaining the program”? Who knows! My best guess is that the program’s astronomical “maintenance” costs involve buying pink crap from athleticwear manufacturers, buying ads about the program, and paying the people who run the program. It ain’t “fighting cancer,” that’s for sure.

One could argue that the entire point of A Crucial Catch isn’t raising money, but raising awareness. Pretty thoughts, sure, but that defense is problematic for a couple of reasons: first, it’s impossible to gauge exactly how much “AWARENESS” is raised, how many women are screened because RG3 wore a pink armband or Justin Tuck held a pink football and made a pun about “tackling” cancer on an ad, but with the inescapable cultural pinkwashing that hits store shelves and airwaves every October, it’s probably safe to assume that most people are plenty aware of breast cancer, that we’ve reached near-peak AWARENESS. Secondly, the sort of awareness that the NFL is promoting isn’t necessarily good for women; a study a year ago found that an early breast cancer diagnosis often led women to undergo unnecessary treatment. And furthermore, encouraging women to get cancer treatment without considering that maybe, just maybe, the reason that 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer during their lifetimes isn’t just all of our genes freaking out at once, that maybe something in the environment we inhabit seems like an obtuse way to fight a disease. Focusing exclusively on “curing” cancer without examining environmental causes of cancer is sort of like fixing a leaky ceiling by buying a big bucket.

Besides, I don’t know why the NFL has to remind women to get breast exams at all; I can’t turn on a football game without wondering how many players on the field have, at some point in their anointed athlete youth, creepily groped a woman’s breasts. Oh yeah, I think as Ben Roethlisberger drops back to pass, mammograms.


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