NFL Breast Cancer Support in October Brings More Pink than Green

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October 8, 2014; VICE Sports

If you a football fan watching a game during the month of October, you might notice that the screen or field is spattered throughout with pink. From socks and shoes to penalty flags, it is pretty clear that the NFL is raising awareness about breast cancer. Where the relationship becomes fuzzy is whether the NFL actually provides financial support to alleviating breast cancer.

According to the NFL’s dedicated “Pink” website, all proceeds from their October work goes directly to support breast cancer and does not financially benefit the NFL. Specifically, the “NFL’s work has raised approximately $7 million for the American Cancer Society.” Since their 2009 start, the NFL and ACS partnership has introduced several additional programs, including promoting “health equity and addresses cancer screening disparities through community based cancer prevention and early detection programs that increase access to breast cancer screenings,” which has grown from 17 communities near NFL teams to communities near each of the 32 teams. According to a spokesperson from ACS, the “Screening Saves Lives” in these centers has “answered questions about early detection of the disease for at least 72,000 women in the last three years and screened 10,000 women at little or no cost.”

An article from the growing online and television news source VICE sees the NFL’s breast cancer support differently. According to a recent article, VICE observes that the “month-long campaign that paints everything from players’ shoes to fields to penalty flags pink doesn’t actually result in a single dollar donated to breast cancer research. Yup, not a penny.” VICE spoke to Karuna Jaggar, who leads the Think Before You Pink campaign, a watchdog for the country’s breast cancer programs. Ms. Jaggar believes the NFL program is deceptive because the medical advice to women is “outdated, unproven, and misguided,” citing research from the New England Journal of Medicine that says that mammography “has no overall impact on survival rates of women with the disease.”

Outside of the impact challenge, there are also challenges to whether the NFL’s donations are actually substantive. The NFL website claims that 100 percent of the NFL’s retail proceeds from Pink October product sales go to the ACS. According to VICE, the fine print shows the flaw: “If you buy a $100 shoe from…the wholesaler, distributor, and retailer give 0 percent of their shares to ACS. The only portion that goes to the society is the NFL’s royalty percentage.”

In terms of financial impact, the NFL averages “just $1.1 million every year” since they started the relationship with ACS, which is “less than .01 percent of the approximately $10 billion the league made in revenue in 2013” and significantly less than other ACS partners like Walgreens.—John Brothers