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Lost in a Sea of Pink This October

BC-PumpkinAs we are well into the month of October, another opportunity presents itself for me to remind you about National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that:

v     Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, after skin cancer.

v     It accounts for nearly one (1) in three (3) cancers diagnosed in women.

v     By the end of 2013, an estimated 232,340 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and an estimated 39,620 women will die from breast cancer.

The good news from ACS is death rates from breast cancer in the United States have dropped 34% since 1990. America has made great strides against this dreaded disease through awareness and research. What was almost a hush-hush topic 20 years ago is out of the closet and in living rooms, stores, on products, in print everywhere and even on the minds of 32 NFL teams and their fans.


Leading my awareness list is the Buddy Check 12 [Ref 1] breast health and awareness program that has been sponsored by local NBC affiliate, KPNX (Phoenix, AZ) for the past 20 years. Anyone can sign up for the program that provides the latest news on breast cancer information and a monthly reminder, via email or phone, to physically exam their breast on the 12th of each month. Each participant can also sign up a friend for this program.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new diagnostic tool, Lymphoseek®, that can more accurately determine whether breast cancer has spread to lymph nodes, helping to avoid overtreatment of women and men with the disease.[Ref 2] According to the FDA, Lymphoseek is the first medication used for locating lymph nodes to be approved in the USA in over three decades. Sulfur colloid was approved in 1974 and isosulfan in 1981.

Designer Chemo Caps knitted by Barbara Tilly Graves

Designer Chemo Caps knitted by Barbara Tilly Graves

Lymphoseek was created by Navidea Biopharmaceuticals Inc. It transits through the lymphatic vessels and accumulates in lymph nodes draining from a primary tumor. The product will be sold and distributed in the United States on an exclusive basis by Cardinal Health, Inc. When I had my lumpectomy back in 1997, the surgeon removed five lymph nodes from my left arm pit to see if the cancer had spread. Thank goodness it hadn’t. Fast forward to today and Lymphoseek will reduce treatments and surgeries to help men and women identify the radius of their cancer.

Also making news this month is the growing number of businesses, manufacturers, and regular people who have come on board to help spread awareness, information, and support for breast cancer research. Pink ribbons are on everything including my favorite wheat crackers, cottage cheese, yogurt containers, milk and many other food products. Postage stamps, entertainment tickets, clothing and accessories, pins, cups, mugs, and an assorted number of products all bear the notable pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness.

One organization that has been getting much press this month for their “A Crucial Catch” campaign is the National Football League (NFL). I’ve noticed a growing support for breast cancer awareness and research within the NFL over the years. In particular, this football season has been floating in pink on and off the field. There’s the field with the oversized breast cancer ribbon, players with pink cleats or uniforms with some pink on them, pink helmets, pink padding for the goal posts, etc.

According to the New York Post and the NFL, what is now a 32-team, league-wide campaign was initiated from humble beginnings with a group of sorority members in northern Virginia and a team owner’s wife who adopted the cause. [Ref 3, 4] Tonya Snyder began handing out pink ribbons at NFL games in 1999. Since then, the NFL awareness campaign has flourished, raising $4.5 million to date. “The wonderful details of this story have never really been told,” says Tanya Snyder, whose husband, Daniel Snyder, bought the Washington Redskins in 1999.

NFL Shield Pink Logo

NFL Shield Pink Logo

“A group of women from the sorority Zeta Tau Alpha from northern Virginia approached the Redskins about doing a breast cancer awareness event in October 1999,” says Snyder, who was moved by their enthusiasm. She joined them as they handed out 8,000 handmade pink ribbons to fans that first year. “It was driven by a simple concept: one ribbon at a time and one fan at a time. It was a wonderful event,” she recalls. What started as one team, the Washington Redskins, grew to four teams the next year.

The movement continued to gain momentum over the next few seasons, spreading to more and more teams, until the league officially adopted the campaign five years ago, becoming partners with ACS. As a breast cancer survivor for the past 16 years, its sobering to see the change and shift in attitudes of the media and the public that at one time was embarrassed or opposed to openly discussing the problems of this disease that was claiming mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, nieces, sister-in-laws, aunts, as well as husbands, fathers, and brothers. How refreshing it is to listen to professional football players and other sports not only support awareness and research, but share their own personal stories of hurt and healing while supporting family members, friends, and loved ones who have had to address a diagnosis of breast cancer.

The NFL, its clubs, players and the NFL Players Association are supporting the fight against breast cancer. Their campaign, “A Crucial Catch”, focuses on the importance of annual screenings, especially for women who are 40 and older. All apparel worn at games by players and coaches, along with special game balls and pink coins will be auctioned off to raise funds to benefit the ACS’s Community Health Advocates National Grants for Empowerment (CHANGE) program. The CHANGE program provides outreach and breast cancer screenings to women in underserved communities. [Ref 4]

NFL BCA Think Pink Shirt

NFL BCA Think Pink Shirt

While all of the above is good news on the breast cancer front, some negative news has crept onto the field this football season. A number of critics have complained that not enough funds for NFL related merchandise sales are going towards breast cancer research. These products are officially licensed Breast Cancer Awareness (BCA) NFL merchandise and include women’s polo shirts, ribbons, as well as the same special edition pink ribbon footballs, pink NFL gloves, water bottles, towels, hats, Crucial Catch shirts, and other exclusive NFL pink ribbon products seen on the field during the month of October.

So, what’s the problem? According to critics, and using a $100 retail product as the example, here’s a breakdown of the dollars [Ref 5]:

          50% of the sale goes to the retailer – $50.00

          25% of the sale goes to NFL royalties from the retailer – $12.50

          90% of royalties goes to American Cancer Society  – $11.25

Others challenge that only $3.54 is going towards research while the NFL is keeping approximately $45 (based on 100% mark-up). [Ref 6] Other news sources put the amount at about $8 for every $100 that is spent that goes to breast cancer research after administrative fees are subtracted by ACS.

Pinktober_StormRecognizing that there is a cost to manufacturing and selling merchandise, all dollars spent on an item will not be directed to the non-profit organization or fund research for breast cancer or other activities. Personally, I’d like to see the percentage of each merchandise sale increase, however, I’d be remiss to overlook the intangible value of the marketing, advertising and publicity that ACS and other organizations are gaining via the NFL games, their media and marketing, and the players themselves.

The cost of publicity and advertisement is priceless, and there aren’t too many places that any non-profit can find a captive audience on a football night in America.


  1. Buddy Check 12, www.buddycheck12.azcentral.com.
  2. Navidea Pharmaceuticals, www.lymphoseek.com 
  3. “The Woman Who Made the NFL Think Pink”, Kirsten Fleming, October 7, 2013, http://nypost.com/2013/10/07/the-woman-who-made-the-nfl-think-pink/
  4. NFL Pink, A Crucial Catch, http://www.nfl.com/pink
  5. “NFL Pink Sales Under Scrutiny”, The Lead With Jake Tapper, October 17, 2013, http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/politics/2013/10/17/lead-tell-nfl-pink-sales-under-scrutiny.cnn.html
  6. “Critics Say NFL is Allegedly Profiting Off of Breast Cancer – Or is it Just Their Effort at Awareness?”, http://931jackfm.cbslocal.com/2012/10/11/critics-say-nfl-is-allegedly-profiting-off-of-breast-cancer-or-is-it-just-their-effort-at-awareness/

About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.


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