NFL Needs to Stop Exploiting Breast Cancer

Breast cancer runs in my family and when I told my OB-GYN of this he put me at high risk for it. I check myself every day. Education for any illness is key. However, the pink in October is just too much. I wrote about how the American Cancer Society sees only 10% of the profits from pink NFL merchandise. Considering that the majority of it is sold through the NFL, the league receives the majority of the cut. 

Not to mention the fact that the league is very strict with uniform rules, but they allow their players and coaches to bend those rules in October. Pink is everywhere and players can wear pink without being penalized. Yet, when Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall wanted to wear green shoes last week in honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, the league was not going to even allow Marshall on the field. They finally "compromised" and only fined him $5,250. He matched that and donated it to the Brandon Marshall Foundation, and overall was fined $10,500. 

Why does Marshall have a foundation for mental health? Because he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2010. Yes, the NFL told one of their players who suffers from a mental illness he could not promote the awareness week for his disease. There is a stigma attached to mental health issues. So many people think these disorders can be turned on and off or you can ignore the disease. Marshall has battled his disease publicly to try to erase these generalizations. In fact, one of the top points of the foundation is to fight these stigmas. People thought Marshall was a "nut job" or a "bad guy" when he was in Miami and Denver. It turns out his BPD was not properly diagnosed. But after that people thought he was "crazy!" But now that he has everything under control he is one of the top receivers in the NFL. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009 was the last year for available numbers and 211,731 women and 2,001 men were diagnosed with breast cancer. It appears to be a lot, but it is nothing compared to mental illnesses. People often forget the many disorders associated with mental health. They include schizophrenia, anxiety (which includes post-traumatic stress disorder), eating disorders, ADD, ADHD, autism, and personality disorders. This is from the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • 26.2% of Americans aged 18 and up suffer from a mental disorder. That is roughly 1 in 4 Americans and with the 2004 Census results that is 57.7 million people. About 1 in 17 suffer from a serious mental illness. 45% of those suffer with two or more disorders.
  • 20.9 million American adults or 9.5% of the population suffer from mood disorders.
  • Major Depressive Disorder affects 14.8 million American adults. It also affects women more than men.
  • Schizophrenia affects 2.4 American adults or 1.1% of the population.
  • 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety disorders, which is about 18.1% of the population. Also, most people suffer from more than one type of anxiety disorder.
  • 6 million American adults, 2.7% of the population, suffer from panic disorders. 1 in 3 of them will eventually develop agoraphobia, which is a social phobia.
  • Social phobia affects 15 million American adults, 6.8% of the population.
  • It may shock people, but eating disorders are a mental illness. .6% of the population will develop anorexia, 1% bulimia and 2.8% a binge eating disorder. .56% of those who have anorexia will die of the disease. 
  • Many people shrug off ADHD, but it is real even in adults. 4.1% of adults between 18-44 are affected.
  • Autism is a mental illness and is itself not well known. Autism is actually a group of disorders called autism spectrum disorders. Autism is the most severe. The CDC said 1 in 110 8-year-olds are affected by some form of autism.
  • Personality disorders are mental illnesses. 9.1% of American adults suffer from one of them. 1.6% suffer from BPD like Marshall.

Why not mental health? The numbers do not lie and more Americans suffer from mental illness than breast cancer. Is it because they cannot make a profit off of mental health? They pretty much proved that when they told Marshall he was not even allowed on the field with his green shoes. Would they allow a player to wear blue shoes for prostate cancer? How about purple for domestic violence? If they wanted to concentrate on a disease for women why not choose teal for ovarian cancer? That is often called the silent killer because it is not detected until it is too late. Better yet, why not red for heart disease because that is the number one killer of men and women.

I also have a problem with how men affected by breast cancer are shoved to the side. It is only about the women. I saw a comment in an article that asked why men should not care about breast cancer since men have wives and sisters affected. What about the men? How quickly everyone forgets that men can develop breast cancer too.

Or is it because it is the breasts? For one month we can talk about breasts without being perceived as perverts. Plus, men love boobs. Everyone loves boobs. 

I know the NFL is not alone in this, but it is the most prominent sport in October and one of the strictest with uniform policies. A player was fined for green cleats. Another player was fined for wearing the wrong socks. They claim they help bring awareness to the disease with their pink merchandise and uniforms. So what? Everyone and everything goes pink in October. It is not like the NFL is doing something special. It is exploitation of breast cancer.

If the NFL wanted to do something, the league would have helped Marshall with Mental Health Awareness Week, or they would allow exceptions for green shoes. It is disgusting the way they treated Marshall, who is fighting his mental disorder every day.

I mentioned this on Twitter and my mentions column blew up. Many survivors or relatives of survivors are sick of the exploitation. Others are just sick of it. But if you dare speak about it you are heartless and do not care about women.

Stop the exploitation. All cancers deserve attention, not just the breasts. But if you want to help fight cancer send a check directly to the American Cancer Society.

Cancer sucks.


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