On the surface, the NFL’s support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a spectacular thing. It’s the most popular sports league in America raising money and awareness for something that impacts 1-in-8 women. Plus, if you watch NFL games during October, you know that the league goes all out with branded pink merchandise with things like pink gloves and towels. In theory, what the NFL is doing is really admirable.
And yet, once you dig a little deeper, you learn that this initiative barely helps out with breast cancer research. Here’s what Business Insider found out in 2013 about the NFL’s, uh, questionable money management during Breast Cancer Awareness Month:
In other words, for every $100 in pink merchandise sold, $12.50 goes to the NFL. Of that, $11.25 goes to the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the NFL keeps the rest. The remaining money is then divided up by the company that makes the merchandise (37.5%) and the company that sells the merchandise (50.0%), which is often the NFL and the individual teams.
Then consider that only 71.2% of money the ACS receives goes towards research and cancer programs. In the end, after everybody has taken their cut, only 8.01% of money spent on pink NFL merchandise is actually going towards cancer research.
Here’s the chart that Business Insider made explaining where money goes. If you’re thinking that this is simply a case of signals getting mixed up between the NFL and its financial offices, there’s some bad news: VICE Sports also looked into this a year later and found out the exact same thing. It also learned that the NFL is giving money to outdated an technology.
Seems admirable, right? Actually, no, says Karuna Jaggar, who heads the Think Before You Pink campaign, a watchdog for the country’s breast cancer programs. She finds the NFL’s A Crucial Catch campaign’s public health message, “Annual Screening Saves Lives,” highly misinformative.
“Screening doesn’t save lives and screening mammography … is different from diagnostic mammography,” Jagger says. “The NFL has no business providing medical advice to women that is outdated, unproven, and misguided.”
Jagger quotes well-regarded and independently conducted research that shows screening mammography has no overall impact on survival rates of women with the disease. The most substantive mammography research, a study that followed 100,000 women for 25 years, concluded that annual screening does not result in a reduction in breast cancer specific mortality for women over 40 in any way that goes beyond physical examination. These screenings are the mainstay and only measurable aspect of the NFL’s A Crucial Catch campaign, which Jaggar says is spreading an outdated message about early detection.
So basically, the tl;dr is that the NFL probably has good intentions with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The only issue is that the league isn’t actually donating that much money to breast cancer research, but rather, money is going primarily to a campaign that has more to do with breast cancer screenings.
At least the NFL isn’t trying to fool anyone with its intentions – the word “research” doesn’t appear anywhere on its website discussing its breast cancer awareness initiative.