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The NFL and Breast Cancer Awareness: Unclear on the Concept

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I’m no fan of breast cancer. I’ve watched friends and family suffer the emotional roller coaster, the pain and suffering of breast cancer and its treatment.

pink balloons

With Breast Cancer Awareness month in full swing, I appreciate that the manliest of sports is acknowledging and supporting the disease in stadiums and on countless TVs across the nation. Raising funds for breast cancer research is certainly admirable. But NFL! The pink chin straps, the pink cleats, the pink padding around the goal posts? By commissioning such nonsense, you are contributing to the problem rather than helping to solve it. Plastic products containing bisphenol A (BPA) have been linked to the development of breast cancer. An article in The Atlantic states:

“BPA is everywhere, with the CDC concluding that more than 90 percent of Americans are chronically exposed. Such pervasiveness is, in the words of one of the study’s seven authors, Dr. Frederick vom Saal, “nothing short of insanity.” The University of Missouri endocrinologist also does not hesitate to use the word “scary,” comparing today’s use of BPA to the use of lead in paint a century ago.”

There’s a better way.

Parading around in pink plastic and dressing the football field up like Barbie may give NFL fans the warm fuzzies, but you’ve also just contributed to the body burden of countless men, women, and children. Sure, the NFL plans to auction the apparel worn by the players and donate the proceeds to the American Cancer Society. But is it worth it? Is it worth polluting our environment and our bodies? It just doesn’t make sense to raise funds by auctioning off items that are contributing to the problem in the first place. Rather than adding more chemicals to our world, the NFL would do well to put their efforts toward making a difference environmentally.

  • Stop selling bottled water. Instead, offer fans the chance to bring their own stainless steel, BPA-free refillable water bottles and provide filling stations throughout the stadium. And sure, sell team bottles, too – so long as they’re BPA-free.
  • Replace the plastic bags at the team shop with paper.
  • Serve drinks in paper or biodegradable cups.
  • In addition to trash receptacles, offer containers for recycling and composting.
  • And for heaven’s sake, stop selling those stupid foam fingers.

Transforming a professional football game into a low-waste, low-BPA event would make a much larger impact on the health of American women than the embarrassment of pink-washing that’s set to go on throughout the NFL in October.

And it’s not just football.

The NFL’s promotion of pink is possibly the most visible, but all across the nation organizers put a lot of work into raising funds and awareness about breast cancer. But the pink acetate ribbons, the pink balloons, the pink feather boas, the pink plastic cups that organizations use to raise money to fight breast cancer? I honor the efforts, I honor the survivors, but for goodness sake, step back for a minute and pay attention.

From BreastCancer.org:

Depending on where you live and work, you’re likely to be exposed to many plastic products every day. Food and beverage containers, some disposable plates, and toiletry bottles are all plastic and all are made from chemicals. Research suggests that all plastics may leach chemicals if they’re scratched or heated. Research also strongly suggests that at certain exposure levels, some of the chemicals in these products, such as bisphenol A (BPA), may cause cancer in people.

Another potential problem? Phthalates. Phthalates are chemical plasticizers used in the production of many types of plastics, primarily to make plastics softer and/or more pliable. Congress has permanently banned three types of phthalates, with three others banned in specific products (such as children’s products that could be mouthed). [link] The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment added DINP (Diisononyl phthalate, a commonly used phthalate found in vinyl products) to their list of chemicals known to cause cancer. [link]

By contributing to the manufacture of pink plastic products to raise awareness, might we be exacerbating the problem? Instead of hosting hot pink “Save the Ta-Tas” events, why not host zero-waste educational events so people can learn to break free of the plastic habit? Sure it’s idealistic. But it makes sense, doesn’t it?

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

19 comments… add one
  • Alexandra Oct 20, 2011, 4:34 pm

    Great post. I totally agree. There’s still so much ignorance out there. I woke up to the American Cancer Society true colors when they pooh-poohed the President’s Annual Cancer Report the day after it appeared last year. Why? The American Chemical Council is a big contributor. I follow Breast Cancer Action, one group that minces no words and explains when estrogen mimics can do to a body. Both women and men are now getting breast cancer. We have to clean up our environment and pass the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, proposed by Senator Lautenberg of New Jersey. Have you contacted your senator yet on co-sponsoring this bill?

  • Liz Oct 20, 2011, 6:11 pm

    yep totally agree, and thanks for putting a list of well-thought- out suggestions instead of just whinging about the problem (which I’ve seen a bit of lately).

  • Heather Oct 21, 2011, 1:23 am

    I agree with you totally. People prefer to feel good about being aware instead of actually doing something to help address the problem. The idea that all publicity is good publicity has lead many groups and people to make counterproductive choices.

    I hope someone with common sense starts listening and planning events that can have a real impact.

  • Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart Oct 21, 2011, 4:21 am

    Absolutely … plus, all the pink stuff just gets old after a while. Rather than awareness per se … how about awareness of potential causes. Excellent points. And, who doesn’t love a good rant?

  • ruth pennebaker Oct 21, 2011, 5:28 am

    Oh, but it’s so much easier to wear pink than think. Sign me up as a breast cancer survivor who’s sick and tired of the merchandising and easy, feel-good slogans.

  • Claudine M Jalajas Oct 21, 2011, 7:27 am

    What? What? Get rid of the foam finger??? Dear god.. say it isn’t so! 🙂

    I agree with your post and liked your suggestions!

  • NoPotCooking Oct 21, 2011, 7:59 am

    I am going to take an unpopular position here and say that I find all this awareness stuff to be nonsense. Who has not heard of breast cancer? I would rather the money went to research.

  • MyKidsEatSquid Oct 21, 2011, 9:15 am

    Roxanne and NoPotCooking make good points–I’ve seen pink everywhere (not an NFL watcher so I missed that tie-in) but I’m not sure that a blanket ‘awareness’ campaign is what is needed at this point.

  • Becky Oct 21, 2011, 9:45 am

    I am so grateful for this post because sometimes I feel like I am the only one out there that thinks much of this campaigning does little to no good to ACTUALLY help with breast cancer and awareness. What people need to be aware of is the actions that people can take to decrease their chances of getting breast cancer. Not that we can remove our chances entirely, but we could reduce them.

  • Living Large Oct 21, 2011, 10:17 am

    In total agreement. While I think the awareness helps remind women to get their mammograms, I think we should start taking a hard look at the causes and being more aware of the environment that is causing all of this cancer in the first place.

  • Jennifer Margulis Oct 21, 2011, 12:08 pm

    Yes, yes, yes! I hope everyone at the NFL reads this and that we start making real changes.

  • Sheryl Oct 21, 2011, 2:46 pm

    While it is okay to show support for the cause of breast cancer awareness, I think the pink message has gotten lost in unnecessary merchandising. Thanks for the rant!

  • merr Oct 22, 2011, 5:12 am

    Fascinating post – terrific angle. It almost feels like the whole pink thing is starting to implode in many ways. i like what Ruth said – about thinking.

  • Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi Oct 26, 2011, 10:41 am

    All the pink everything makes me a bit nuts. I don’t need a pink baking dish to know that breast cancer exists.

  • Donna Hull Nov 3, 2011, 3:30 am

    Very interesting post, Kris. It does seem like breast cancer awareness campaigns have turned into the popular thing to do and a huge merchandising opportunity. I’d ask, is it really helping breast cancer research?

  • Kelli Ploeger Hinn Oct 1, 2012, 4:48 pm

    wow!

  • Lois Oct 2, 2012, 3:08 pm

    I so agree, I hate watching these big so called macho men wearing pink.  There is a color and ribbon for every cause now. It’s hard to even remember what most of them stand for any more.  I see the NFL as one big merchandising corporation. There is no way they will ever embrace the changes you suggest, while they are the best I’ve heard, as it would cut down on the profits they can get from the concession stands and such. 

  • Toni Oct 1, 2015, 6:24 am

    YES! So much easier to wear pink than to DO anything about breast cancer ,and other cancers. There are the environmental ideas listed above, eating a healthy diet (probably not going to see anything about that during a football game), and exercising!! Maybe the NFL should have custom WOMENS running shoes made and donate those to women who need them to start taking care of themselves by getting some exercise.

    • Kris Bordessa Oct 5, 2015, 8:15 am

      Good idea on the shoes!

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