The NFL Still Deserves Bad Press for Breast Cancer ‘Pinkwashing’

As the month of October winds down it’s time to revisit what is becoming an annual controversy involving breast cancer, the National Football League and “pinkwashing.”

A year ago Business Insider reported that only 8% of the proceeds from the sale of the NFL’s “A Crucial Catch” breast cancer awareness products go to the American Cancer Society, and this year the same author followed up with a variation on the story, this time calling the total “shockingly small“. The league didn’t dispute these numbers but simply said that it raised a total of $3M from 2009 to 2012, which isn’t too terribly impressive for a business that expects to reach $25 billion in revenues by 2027.

Last week the ACS defended its partner after people started discussing the story again by saying that “The NFL is taking the brunt of the criticism, but from its take, they couldn’t give us more than what they are giving.”

That’s a strange way to put it. The main point, discussed in this excellent 2012 SB Nation article which pegs the total at closer to 5%, is that the NFL is donating a small portion of a new revenue stream that it created entirely for this campaign. Also, the league’s infuriating status as a non-profit organization means that the whole enterprise is effectively subsidized by the American taxpayer, a fact that gives us every right to ask why the NFL can’t do more.

Everybody knows that A Crucial Catch is a marketing campaign—and a successful one at that. It has raised awareness of the American Cancer Society, and if it has indeed led more women to get breast cancer screenings that benefited them, then it’s a good thing. But as SB Nation points out, the Jerry Lewis telethon raised $48 million to fight muscular dystrophy in a single night.

The NFL has received a lot of earned media and goodwill for creating the program, but their spokespeople will also be playing defense on the issue for the foreseeable future, and the press will continue to criticize them because they deserve it.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.