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Think Before You Pink?

Where does all that "pink money" go? Not where you think.


As we find ourselves in late October, I'd be willing to bet that even casual football fans have noticed the proliferation of pink paraphernalia on the field this month. I'd also be willing to bet that, by now, any human being who can fog a mirror realizes that pink is the patron color of breast cancer awareness.

Lazy television watcher than I am, I didn't spend much time reflecting on the magenta pervading my Sundays. I'd think to myself: "Self, that's a nice thing of the NFL to promote breast cancer awareness. FALSE START! That was totally a false start." And that's about all the consideration I gave the matter.

The only other time I noticed the stuff was while perusing the NFL shop, which claims that you can "support the fight against breast cancer with pink NFL breast cancer awareness gear."

Allow me to say that I think pink, bedazzled, and otherwise lady-fied football gear is good for little more than identifying the most insipid breed of female fan. Maybe I'm a little biased. Even still, I was willing to forgive the cotton candy and bubble gum-hued "swag" this time of year because, after all, it's for a good cause and blah blah.

So, imagine my chagrin to learn that the vast majority of the dolla dolla billz spent on pink gear goes straight back to the NFL. In fact, according to this piece by very reputable and mathematically literate Business Insider, the league keeps 90% of the profit from be-ribboned football earrings. Um, that seems unfair.

Let's take a closer look at the numbers. When contacted by BI, the NFL revealed that only 5% of pink cash is donated to the American Cancer Society. And while the American Cancer Society is by all accounts a respectable outfit, only 70.8% of its contributions are applied to research and cancer-related programs (the remainder going to operating costs).

At the typical 100% retail markup, the math works out to a measly $3.54 donated to breast cancer research out of every $100 spent on NFL-licensed breast cancer schmutz. Meanwhile, the league makes $45 in profit. This, to my mind, is a problem.

The NFL responded to the BI article by insisting that it does not profit from the pink merchandise, but rather applies money not contributed to ACS toward funding A Crucial Catch, its breast cancer awareness program. Still, that explanation does not stand up to even cursory scrutiny. Instead of donating the money directly to breast cancer research, the league funnels that cash into outfitting in pink its players, fields, footballs, and every other unmarked surface exposed to a TV camera.

Sure, I get that seeing fuchsia in unexpected places reminds people of breast cancer. Hence the "awareness" part. But is anyone really unaware of such a widespread, highly publicized disease? Last I checked, people know what breast cancer is. No one is searching to see "breast cancer" used in a sentence.

Think about it this way: the NFL made $9.5 billion in profits in 2011, yet only donated $3 million to breast cancer causes over the past three years. When the league stands to make $45 for every $3.54 that goes to research, it seems like all that pink on the field does more to advertise NFL merchandise than support the fight against breast cancer. I find that objectionable.

I hope you do, too.

Want to buy pink stuff? Fine, do it. Then donate to a reputable breast cancer charity.