Sports

Is NFL using ‘Pink’ campaign to hide its image problems?

Every October, New England Patriots fans see Tom Brady take the field in pink cleats. Rob Gronkowski and other Pats dry their hands with pink towels. Gillette Stadium is just one of 32 stadiums across the NFL that has a significant pink presence during the month as part of its “A Crucial Catch” campaign, in conjunction with The American Cancer Society. With all of this pink gear and team shops pushing the sale of these items, you’d think more money would be going towards fighting breast cancer. Unfortunately, it’s not.

Business Insider reported on Oct. 10 that only about five percent of the money earned from pink gear sales goes to the American Cancer Society. The other 95 percent covers costs of the campaign, according to the NFL source cited in the Business Insider story.

That Patriots’ breast cancer awareness “performance pullover” hoodie that costs $74.95 on NFLShop.com? Just $4 of your money is donated to breast cancer research. If you were in the market for a Pats hat with the pink ribbon on the side, it’ll set you back $37.95. Less than $2 of that hefty price tag is contributed to the cause that pink ribbon symbolizes.

Patriots director of media relations Stacey James could not confirm what percentage of pink merchandise sales are donated to the American Cancer Society, noting that the percentage is set by the league. Individual teams cannot decide how much money from pink merchandise sales are donated, he said.

This whole thing isn’t about trying to find a cure if only five percent of pink merchandise goes towards research to find one. The NFL is smart with its marketing to say it’s trying to raise awareness because it’s certainly not trying to raise a whole lot of money. But then again, fighting breast cancer isn’t the point of the league’s campaign anyways.

While the NFL isn’t reportedly gaining anything financially from its “Crucial Catch” campaign, it’s clear its purpose is more about good public relations than helping find a cure for breast cancer. When the NFL launched its breast cancer awareness month efforts in 2009, many of its players were in the news for recent arrests. Since Roger Goodell took over as commissioner in 2006, NFL players have been arrested at least 395 times, according to Brent Schrotenboer of USA Today.

Pink flags, hats, socks, and Terrible Towels have been helping fans forget about those arrests, at least every October. The NFL probably thinks it’s harder for fans to think of Julian Edelman’s arrest in 2011 if he’s decked out in pink to stop a disease that has possibly affected many of their loved ones.

Perhaps the NFL realized when launching this campaign that breast cancer awareness was a quick, easy way to build up public relations that have been bruised by arrests. Edelman and former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez are just two of many names that have diminished the luster of the NFL shield in recent years.

Chicago Bears’ wide receiver Brandon Marshall was once one of those players dragging the NFL into the tabloid headlines. The veteran announced in July 2011 that he had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and this season, on Oct. 13, he wore green cleats in honor of Mental Health Awareness Week. For the gesture, the NFL fined him $10,500.

If Marshall had been wearing pink cleats, he would be $10,500 richer than he is today. It appears mental health isn’t as crucial to the NFL as breast cancer awareness. Marshall’s fine came because the league he plays for doesn’t have an affiliation with the cause he was promoting. Mental Health Awareness Week, of course, isn’t as well-known as the cause championed by big names like Avon and Susan G. Komen for the Cure. As such, the league doesn’t have any green merchandise to push online or on game day.

This October partnership is more about public relations than anything, so the NFL should welcome the opportunity to raise awareness for other illnesses and diseases. Marshall shouldn’t have been fined for his green cleats, he should have been praised. Goodell should have been sending Marshall a letter about how to get involved with the player’s mental health foundation, not demanding an arbitrary amount of money.

With news leaking about how the league only gives $5 of every $100 of its pink sales to fight breast cancer, maybe Goodell and co. will up their donations. Considering that the NFL is set to gross more than $9 billion this year, the league should have the funds to open its wallet a little more for a cause it wants fans to think it cares so deeply about.

And hopefully the league will open its doors to help other causes, rather than punish its players for raising awareness on their own.