Where Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence Intersect: The NFL

As breast cancer awareness campaigns have become more visible, and the color pink has become emblematic of survivors and those who support their struggle, I interpret the omnipresent October color as a way to mobilize social consciousness, action and hope. As a woman, I am incredibly grateful to see our national embrace of an initiative framed around saving women’s lives. I recognize that the movement against breast cancer may save my life and/or the lives of women and men that I love dearly.

Yet I would be remiss, as a biracial Black feminist, not to mention my concerns with the corporatization of advocacy, given the extensive list of products that sport pink in October. Take for example, Method “Pink Your Sink” Soap; Energizer’s “Power for the Cause”; Under Armour’s “Power in Pink” ; Delta Airline’s “Taking Flight for the Fight” and other items that have been mentioned here and here on the Ms. Blog.

Although mirroring Think before You Pink’s concerns over “pinkwashing,” I am not saying that those advocating for social consciousness should snub corporate support, given the potential benefits. Rather, I think that corporate buy-ins should be politicized.

Case in point: The National Football League’s (NFL) “A Crucial Catch” breast cancer awareness campaign reads less to me as a genuine concern for the lives of women and more as a convenient choice among “women’s” issues. This is not to undermine league employees’ personal commitments to fighting breast cancer, nor to disregard the power of seeing football fields and players, both traditionally understood to be too “tough” for pink, adorned corner to corner and head to toe in pink. There is something about the NFL in hot pink that makes me smile, and I imagine it’s both my desire to resist “pink for girls” and “blue for boys” and my understanding that one day breast cancer will likely affect me and/or people that I love.

But before the NFL, as a corporate organization deeply steeped in what bell hooks calls “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy,” receives only accolades, I want to point out that October isn’t just Breast Cancer Awareness Month but also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. And that brings forth important questions for the NFL and fans alike to reckon with:

–Why breast cancer awareness opposed to domestic violence awareness?

–Why pink opposed to purple?

–Why not both, or a rotation of numerous issues that disproportionately impact women?

Stemming from my feminist consciousness, three reasons come right to mind: (1) Neither the NFL nor its personnel can be implicated in the cause of breast cancer; (2) the NFL does not want to outwardly associate men and masculinity with men’s violence against women; and (3) the NFL does not want to publicly obligate itself to hold personnel accountable for engaging in violence against women. In essence, pink was a safe patriarchal choice.

This raises a final concern that I hope sparks your curiosity as it does mine:

If the NFL is willing to forefront breast cancer awareness as an issue but has yet, in my opinion, to productively address men’s violence against women—an issue clearly influenced by men, masculinity, and hypermasculine spaces such as sport—then is pink the new color of patriarchy?

Photo of A Crucial Catch by Ed Yourdon via Flickr.



  1. Rachel,

    Here is the start to making the awareness begin:

  2. Perhaps the NFL is unaware of October being Domestic Violence Awareness month. Perhaps not. Even though we don’t really know what their position is on that issue, I think that their awareness of breast cancer as something that threatens women’s lives and their decision to do such a progressive and daring thing as wearing pink on the field is highly commendable. Their support of the effort to find a cure for the disease is a great step forward and says something about how much of an impact feminism has had on this society. I never dreamed I’d see anything like it, just as I never expected to see an African-American president elected in my lifetime. So I say give them a little more time, taking care to remind them and other all-male sports organizations like the NBA and major league baseball associations of both issues.

  3. Another concern of mine regarding the NFL’s embrace of breast cancer awareness is its focus on the “pink paradigm”: i.e., the idea that the most important component of breast cancer awareness is screening and early detection through self-exam and mammograms as a means of saving lives. This message fails to address the true, unpleasant complexities of cancer diagnosis and treatment, which tell us that many breast cancers caught early are so deadly that they will return, spread quickly and kill no matter how successfully they are initially treated, and that some, even caught late, will do little to no harm at all, and detecting them early may result in overtreatment. The “pink paradigm” also utterly ignores inflammatory breast cancer, which does not manifest itself as a tumor at all and thus cannot be “detected early.” (All too many people aren’t aware that particular form of breast cancer even exists.) Finally, it fails to take a systemic approach to addressing the causes and eradication of breast cancer in all populations, in men as well as in women, and in people of all colors and socioeconomic groups. Instead, it places the burden on individuals, primarily women, to ensure they “detect early.” This approach won’t make a meaningful difference in the long term. What will make a difference is sustained research into the causes and prevention of breast cancer, as well as the discovery of less damaging treatments and, yes, real cures.

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