Pink not enough in cancer fight

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Jen Floyd Engel

Jen Floyd Engel, selected as the top columnist in the 2012 Associated Press Sports Editors annual contest, started working at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997 and became a columnist in 2003 before joining Sports opinions? She's never short of them. And love her or hate her, she'll be just another one of the boys. Follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook.


This weekend the NFL wraps up its war on breast cancer with a final barrage of pink shoes, pink towels, pink hats, pink gloves and now even pink penalty flags.


The NFL went all in for Breast Cancer Awareness Month by adorning uniforms in pink during October 2011. Take a peek at how it turned out.

They are killing the disease with public relations.

I guess the technical phrase for what the NFL is doing is raising awareness. One question: Are there people unaware of how insidious the disease is and the absolute necessity of early detection? If so, let me suggest an oncology ward at a nearby hospital rather than a pink towel hanging off Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo as a better reminder to ask your wife if she has done her monthly self-exam.

It is not the pink that turns me off. It is this niggling feeling I have that this sea of pink has confused some as to how far we have to go in the fight against breast cancer. And the distance will not be traveled in socks, or towels, or PR.

You know what people on the front lines of breast cancer — patients, doctors, researchers — need? Money. Benjamins pay for research, research finds cures and cures save lives. Benjamins help pay for mammograms and mammograms save lives. Benjamins help fund yoga and therapy and child-care for women fighting the disease.

In comparison, pink socks look good on TV.

I know, to date, selling this pink stuff has raised almost $3 million for the American Cancer Society. And this year, money will help provide screenings and mammograms to women who might otherwise not be able to get them.

Including in 17 NFL markets.


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Which is great unless, of course, you are an underprivileged woman where this program is not available. There is no early detection for them.

So I challenge Mike Vick and Tom Brady, Reggie Wayne and Charles Woodson, any and all NFL players, if they really want to impact the lives of women and families, they will take a stand for Planned Parenthood. They will scream at the top of their lungs against those wishing to defund an organization that is the best, most affordable and sometimes only chance for some women to get a mammogram in many of the neighborhoods where they grew up.

I get that the words Planned Parenthood make some people’s blood boil. It will turn this column political, which is not my intention. That’s why the NFL and its players wear pink T-shirts. It’s safe. Nobody is for breast cancer. Everybody likes a T-shirt. Pink has a hip vibe in October.

Talking about Planned Parenthood requires a real conversation, real thought, asking ourselves tough questions like, “What does it really mean to be pro-life?” This is actually the arena on which the battle against breast cancer is being fought, yet we are wearing pink T-shirts and pretending otherwise.

If this feels political, it is because mammograms and non-abortion women’s health care have somehow become intermeshed with the abortion debate. And that is a debate which nobody wins, in which nobody's mind is changed.


NFL fans are a special breed, and they bring their own brand of craziness on game day.

I am personally pro-life, yet deeply conflicted about making that choice for another woman. But forget those stances. What we know for sure is that not having places that provide free or low-cost mammograms to women is a death sentence for those stricken by the disease.

I am very much pro-their-lives, too, after watching my own mother lose an excruciating four-year battle with cancer.

I had this conversation with my colleagues on Wednesday. All of them are men, and all have good health insurance. They have no idea how hard it is to get a mammogram in this country — how even those of us with insurance have to fight to get mammograms covered before a certain age, have long waits once they have been approved and come sometimes with costly copays.

Now imagine being in a small town or inner city, or without insurance, or without a lot of extra cash lying around and how hard it is now to get a screening or a mammogram. And pink socks on NFL players barely scrape the surface of this need.

What I am worried about is this sea of pink awareness has obfuscated the issue, convinced too many this battle has been won. No NFL team would enter game week printing up a bunch of “Beat NY” T-shirts and call it a day. They know where the real battles are. They have a plan. They play to win, not to raise awareness.


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Until a pro-life group fills the gap of providing low-cost screenings and mammograms to women who desperately need them in every nook and cranny of this country, I cannot abide by saving one set of lives and killing others.

And if NFL players really are serious about battling breast cancer, they will join this fight.

Lend their voice.

Lend their platform.

Lend their name.

Make no mistake, there is a war on women raging. And saying nothing is choosing a side — even if you are wearing pink socks.

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