With the arrival of October come certain expectations: people foaming at the mouth for Starbucks’ caloric pumpkin spice latte, the overabundance of yoga pants paired with Uggs, and the NFL’s breast cancer awareness campaign.
This year I watched my favorite team, the Green Bay Packers, play against (and demolish) the Minnesota Vikings on October 1st, and instead of over-enthusiastically yelling at the coaches play calls or screaming motivational slurs at the players, I was distracted by the NFL’s sixth-annual ‘awareness campaign’.
Don’t get me wrong, promoting awareness for breast cancer is an incredibly noble cause as 1 in every 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. This year alone, nearly 40,000 out of 220,000 diagnosed women in the United States will die from breast cancer, making it the second-highest cause of cancer related death for women. Those statistics makes the NFL’s “A Crucial Catch” campaign, which focuses on educating women about the importance of yearly screening while also providing free-screening for women above the age of 40 who face inadequate medical coverage, pretty amazing.
However at the beginning of the month a flood of criticizing articles engulfed the internet, accusing the NFL from substantially profiting off their awareness campaign by pinkwashing their stadiums and NFL paraphernalia. The campaign effort was largely perceived as cause marketing where the players donned in pink gear served as direct consumer ads for NFL pink merchandise. Numerous to almost all media outlets (Business Insider, Huffington Post, Washington Post etc.) have called to question the authenticity of the NFL’s awareness campaign as almost every person in America is aware of breast cancer and its devastating effects, partly due to the annual exercise of corporations splashing a pink ribbon on their products during October. With the onslaught of pink products in stores and ribbon signs staked outside company’s doors, the NFL’s “A Crucial Catch” campaign is no longer perceived as an inspirational way to create a dialogue among Americans about breast cancer.
Corporations and products claiming[i] to support breast cancer awareness have almost done the opposite of that. The overabundance of pink merchandise has assimilated into our consumer culture to the point that the cause—bringing awareness to breast cancer—has become transparent. In literature this is known as semantic satiation, where a word is constantly repeated, causing its very meaning to become meaningless. The stamping of pink ribbons on consumer products has seamlessly assimilated into our cultural expectation of October, along with Starbucks’ pumpkin lattes and Oreo’s spiced pumpkin or candy cane cookie.
The NFL has branded their “A Crucial Catch” campaign as an awareness campaign, educating women about the importance of early screenings. But with the corporatization of breast cancer culture, this message has been prominently heard for the past six years. Not to mention that the annual pinkwashing of hyper-masculine football players and stadiums appears almost patronizing to female fans— as if feminizing the masculine sport and players makes them more relatable to women. But imagine the results if the NFL decided to create awareness campaigns for domestic violence, a sore topic among the NFL, yet one where 1 out of 4 women will be victimized by some form of domestic violence. I’m not saying the NFL should become America’s favorite spokesperson, informing the public on topical diseases. But the NFL has the power to do this, with 64% of Americans watching a football game every week—to guide and change America’s perception and awareness of almost any disease or abuse afflicting the public.
Just this past week two dozen former and current NFL players participated in a series of public service announcements directed by Law & Order actress Mariska Hargitay, denouncing domestic violence and sexual assault. Part of the “No More” campaign, the PSA’s allow NFL players, like Pittsburgh Steelers running back William Gay, to share their personal experience with domestic violence, while also focusing on saying “No More” to typical excuses and judgments made about domestic violence. These PSA’s, along with the NFL’s recent hiring of four women to assist in the revamping of the NFL’s domestic violence policies, are clear indicators that the NFL is listening to the public. After the seeming endless PR travesties of the past few months, it’s great to see that the NFL has finally taken a very public and firm stance against domestic violence. Despite criticisms accusing the NFL of airing the videos as a PR tactic, the PSA’s are a step forward in ending domestic violence, especially within the NFL. And one step is all it takes.
[i] A company can put a pink ribbon on their product, supporting breast cancer, but this does not necessarily mean they are donating to the cause