The Pink Stink: How professional and amateur sport profits from cancer awareness month


The over-marketing of the most accessibly awful of all first-world diseases has basically done more harm than good for cancer awareness – namely, it makes the disease look as friendly as a pair of fuzzy dice.

While ranting on this recently, a coworker stopped me and asked, “What’s the matter? Do you have a problem with cancer?”

As a matter of fact, I do. I do have a problem with cancer.

My father was diagnosed in February with lung cancer. Aggressive lung cancer. Stage four-because-there-is-no-stage-five lung cancer.

His brand of cancer is the BASE jumper of this deadly disease; a sort of devil-may-care/all-in kind of attitude that quickly marched through his other vital organs as a tiny Napoleonic army of drunken plebes who, like Gremlins in a pool, didn’t stop multiplying till they had taken over his very marrow.

My father, in spite of being given a four-month expiration date, is still alive and very much in the fight. But it’s not a friendly or convenient one.

He’s hopped up on enough pain meds to make Liz Taylor’s medicine cabinet look like a Pez dispenser.

When he eats he forces himself with each literal bite to swallow the pain.

When he breathes, it’s as if he’s just been pushed out of a plane at 30,000 feet.

He poisoned his own body in a nine-week chemo slugfest that almost sent him out of the hospital feet first, if only to get a few more weeks on the right side of the turf.

His deep blue eyes are now sunken almost beyond recognition as he kicks and screams and claws for one more day upright and out of bed.

He’s in physical pain. He’s in mental anguish. He’s scraping at the cliff’s edge of his own mortality.

And he’s filled with sadness — not about the days he’s lived, but about the ones that will be taken away.

It’s not a pretty fight. It’s not a fair fight. It’s a fight of messy tears and bloody hankys and having to pause on the way to the bathroom and wanting in that moment so badly to just be himself again.

It’s a fight he’ll eventually lose.

…Buy the real ugly of pink month, the real problem I have with cancer, isn’t the individuals enlisted or even the disease itself — you live long enough, you’ll die of cancer.

Pink month’s real feel-good dark side is in the actions of for-profit industries (the NFL, Nike) preying on the easily-marketed-to by way of good-old Pepto-coated fluorescent pandering; and here’s how they do it:

Ultimately, the NFL is making a lot of money off pink month:

The richest league in the world is OF COURSE going to leverage altruism. The NFL is going to make about $9 billion in revenue this year (roughly the GNP of Jamaica) with projections taking that number up past $25 billion by 2027.

Sheep-in-wolf’s-clothing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (the one who refuses to let his brain-bruised lumpenproles get tested for HGH and other preferred potentially carcinogenic performance enhancing drugs) is making sure the NFL gets more than its fair cut of all this pink goop.

Sports Illustrated reported 50 percent of sales goes to the retailer (and since the most common NFL marketplace is the league’s online store, that’s half to the league off the top.) Almost 38 percent of the sale then goes to the manufacturer (NFL), leaving a paltry eight percent to the American Cancer society for research.

Eight percent pink-o-philes! In other words, you can buy an NFL jersey with a pink bow stiched on it in Thailand or you can double your donation by writing a $20 check to the charity of your choice (and get the write-off, instead of the NFL.)

Your call.

College is in the game as well:

The University of Oregon announced this week their latest revenue-generating gimmick/free-for-Nike billboard is putting pink hamlets on its players to make them resemble giant Blow Pops as they face Washington State Saturday.

From the school’s website:

This year, the Ducks’ will wear pink Nike Vapor Talon Elite cleats, pink Nike Vapor Carbon Elite socks and pink Vapor Jet gloves in combination with their black Nike Pro Combat uniform system. In addition, this year the Ducks will punctuate their look with bold helmets the color of lip gloss worn by the first girl you kissed.

(OK, I made up the lip gloss part.)

duckgrossIYou mean, if I wear Nike Vapor Talon clats, Nike Vapor Carbon Elite socks and Nike Vapor Jet gloves — I’m fighting cancer?

No. Not really.

By Facebook-liking pink Duck helmets, you’re also supporting an institution whose players generate about $150 million a year in revenue for the “not-for-profit” university.

…Players who get paid in dorm food and used text books.

You’re also padding the profits of a third-world child labor-loving megalocorp which reported revenue of about $6.7 billion in Q3 this year.

So that’s nice.

And while the school touts the pink uniforms are raising “awareness” (see: not actual money), some of the helmets will be auctioned off on an Oregon Ducks site and proceeds from that will go to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.

So, technically, you’re the one asked to donate money for a bubblegum-colored keepsake. Not the school. Not Nike.

In fact, Nike’s not even pretending to care enough to match what is given at auction. Naturally, they must assume your awareness has been raised to that as well.

…But we don’t even know where these funds go once they’re there:

The October ’11 issue of Marie Claire reported National Institutes of Health, the nation’s top agency for health-related research, allocated $763 million to the study of breast cancer, more than double what it committed to any other cancer.

The anti-choice grandmamma of them all, Dallas-based Susan G. Komen for the Cure, grossed $420 million last year alone. All told, an estimated $6 billion is raised every year in the name of breast cancer alone.

So there IS money being raised and yet, we are no closer to a cure than twenty years ago.


Because you don’t have to be Nike to profit from cancer.

The woman’s mag cited New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s lawsuit against the Coalition Against Breast Cancer for allegedly being nothing more than a “sham charity.”

The complaint noted founder Andrew Smith and girlfriend Debra Koppelman pinked away just about all of the $9.1 million raised in a half decade for themselves.

One of their associate businesses, a telemarketing firm hired to solicit donations, billed the charity $3.5 million.

In total, Smith and Koppelman paid themselves more than $550k in salary between 2005 and 2009, plus another buck fifty large in retirement accounts.

So yes, pardon me if I’m not signing up to root root root for pink marketing this month.

No amount of money or jerseys or helmets or gloves can fix the unfixable problem of watching people you love continue to die with no tangible advancement towards a cure taking place in their wake — regardless of what color socks are worn on the field.

So, at least for this weekend, I’m tuning out.

Instead, I’m going to go for a walk on the beach with my father.

And hopefully the only pink we’ll see will be written across the sky in one more of his cherished sunsets.


  1. Good stuff brother. I also have mixed emotions about the whole pink football nonsense and know the NFL is not interested in doing anything that doesn’t pad its own pockets. I came to the unfortunate realization that there really is no (or at least very little) true forms of altruism in this world – at least on the large scale. There has to be something in it for someone to make it viable. Whether it’s profit, write-off or personal tragedy, these are the motivations now for running these large campaigns. Though often riddled with corruption and ill-gotten gain, these charity drives are what has evolved and in the end provide some sort of benefit – however far it is from the perfect model. This is just exhibit QQ in the indictment of the motivations underlying human kindness. God bless the Craigger.