The NFL's "Pink October" Money Is Not, Repeat Not, Going to Breast Cancer Research

Are you a football fan? If so, you're in for a familiar sight this October — it's the league's Breast Cancer Awareness month, when players, cheerleaders, and emblems all over NFL stadiums will be decking out in hot pink for the cause. But if this campaign has ever moved you to donate, or to buy some of the NFL Shop merchandise which provide proceeds, it's worth knowing where exactly the money is going, right? Here's your answer: the NFL's Pink October gives no money to breast cancer research, as detailed by VICE Sports' Smriti Sinha.

Rather than backing active research into breast cancer treatments or cures, the money goes specifically to awareness-raising efforts, promoting mammography screenings, for example. And while there's certainly nothing wrong with promoting awareness of high-profile medical ailments, that's a pretty big distinction.

Sinha quotes Karuna Jaggar, the head of "Think Before You Pink," an organization dedicated to informing people just what their donations are going towards when they donate for breast cancer. Jaggar takes particular exception to the NFL's emphasis on mammography screenings, as detailed on their "A Crucial Catch" website, citing recent research suggesting disputing their value.

Screening doesn't save lives and screening mammography … is different from diagnostic mammography. The NFL has no business providing medical advice to women that is outdated, unproven, and misguided.
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The science on the efficacy of screening mammograms is, in fairness, a mixed bag — the National Cancer Institute claims screening mammograms, which are shorter and less specifically detailed, are beneficial for women age 40 to 74. The more sophisticated diagnostic mammograms, performed on women already understood to have potential breast issues, are more detailed and reduce stressful false positives.

Essentially, "Think Before You Pink" is trying to highlight instances of so-called "pinkwashing," the commodification of the breast cancer fight through those eye-catching ribbons and signs. And that's something the NFL's been accused of before — Business Insider reported in 2013 that a trifling amount of the proceeds, just 8 percent, make it to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

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And now, in light of Sinha's report, the situation looks even flimsier — while Business Insider claimed at the time that "only 8.01 percent of money spent on pink NFL merchandise is actually going towards cancer research," ACS spokesperson Tara Peters told Sinha that actually, none of it goes to research purposes.

The money that we receive from NFL has nothing to do with our research program.

In short, if you're buying up bright pink jerseys left and right, your money isn't doing anything to actually help end the disease, just mitigate its existence. And that's an important aspect of the battle against breast cancer, don't get me wrong. But it seems a safe bet this wasn't the understanding everyone had when they opened their pocketbooks — "8 percent of my money will go to breast cancer awareness, and none to research? Cool!" All things considered, you can add this to the long list of things the NFL should be answering for.

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