NFL Runs Into ‘Pinkwashing’ Debacle as Fundraising Efforts are Questioned

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The NFL gets pretty deep into the pink during its October Breast Cancer Awareness initiative: players, refs, cheerleaders and sideline staff wear pink accessories and equipment and fans purchase head-to-toe pink gear to help raise money for breast cancer research. 

Or so they say. According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, the American Cancer Society only receives $11.25 for every $100 spent on pinked-out attire and accessories. The NFL gets $1.25 of that loot and the rest goes to the company that actually makes the merchandise ($37.50) and who sells it ($50)—which is usually the NFL or a specific team. As for the money that actually goes to the American Cancer Society, $8.01 goes to research and the rest goes to administrative costs, BusinessInsider reports.

One way or another, the money from merchandise is finding its way back into the NFL’s pockets instead of going towards the fund.[more]

The NFL, however, says that the money that it pulls in is “used to cover the costs of their breast cancer awareness program,” BusinessInsider notes. In the first three years of the initiative, the league donated $1 million, the NFL told BI. It remains unclear if that donated money only comes from the $1.25 per $100 spent or if it comes out of the combined revenue of that $1.25 and what the NFL gets when it acts as a retailer.

The fundraising controversy is not new. In fact, ‘pinkwashing’ has been a hot topic for years as organizations like the WWE and even Susan G. Komen For The Cure purport the sale of pink-branded products, all under the guise that monies collected will go to funding breast cancer research and support. But just as the NFL has an overhead, charities and non-profits have ‘administrative fees’ that often take big bites out of fundraising money. 

The topic was deeply explored in the 2011 documentary film “Pink Ribbons Inc.,” which took a hard look at the many fundraising walks that take place and how money is spent, by both participants and organizers. One of the film’s reviewers, Voynar, sounded off about the irony:

“As I passed by the scores of breast cancer walkers this weekend after seeing this film, here’s what I thought: Pink wig? About $30 at Display and Costume. Pink tutu? Probably at least $25. Those hot pink leggings and bike shorts? Probably $20-40 a pop. A pink feather boa? Maybe $15-20. Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching. If every single person marching had taken the money they spent on cutesy costumes, donated that cash instead directly to a foundation supporting research into causes as well as cures, and then emailed everyone they knew asking them to do the same, how much more money could have gone into the actual cause for which they were marching, than into how they looked while doing it?”

But back to sports. The influence of the NFL has trickled down to lesser organizations, from NCAA college ball right down to Pop Warner. In fact, Nike just announced that the University of Oregon football team will don an attention-grabbing pink uniform—complete with bright pink helmet—for this weekend’s football game. Parents of pee-wee players are charged to buy their kids pink cleats and socks, all in the name of “breast cancer awareness.”

But what are these actions really raising awareness of, after all, besides organizations like the NFL’s bulging bank account?

Photo courtesy Shirley James/ Ormond Beach Observer

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