Here’s the thing about being a stand-up guy: It’s not a part-time job. You either are a stand-up guy, or you’re not. Pretty simple. You can’t be a good guy on some stuff and a jerk on other stuff and expect to be considered stand-up. It’s binary. One, two. On, off. Yes, no.
The National Football League ought to keep this in mind this month, as its players don pink gloves, pink sweat bands and pink shoelaces. The pigskin has pink decals, kicking tees are pink, goal post padding is pink, the coins used for coin tosses are pink. Captains patches are pink. So are cheerleaders’ pompoms. All to raise breast cancer awareness during October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
And that’s cool. Breast cancer is a horrible disease, the second-leading cause of cancer deaths among American women after lung cancer, and the second most-diagnosed cancer after skin cancer. About one in every eight American women will develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetimes, according to Breastcancer.org. This year, more than 230,000 new cases will be diagnosed in American women, and some 2,300 in American men. Some 40,000 American women will die this year of a breast cancer-related disease. The good news is that the incidence of the disease has been declining for the last 15 years, and death rates have been decreasing since 1989. Experts credit better awareness of the disease and early detection programs with catching tumors early, thus leading to successful treatments.
Part of the credit for increased awareness goes to groups like the NFL, which have embraced the message of awareness of the disease and through its in-your-face placement of the emblematic color pink have made the message inescapable.
But you can’t help but wonder about the NFL’s motives. Is it really trying to eliminate the scourge of cancer, or is it trying to attract more female fans? (A study conducted in 2014 found that 42 percent of the league’s fans are women, making it the most popular American sports league among women; MLB was second at 40 percent.) Is it trying to make moms feel good about football so that they’ll allow their sons to play the game, concussions be damned? Or is it trying to get women to forget about the league’s irresponsible handling of the Ray Rice case, in which the Baltimore Ravens player was suspended for two games as punishment for a domestic violence case; video showed Rice dragging his then-fiance out of an elevator in an Atlantic City casino. Only when TMZ released video showing Rice punching her and knocking her out, the NFL threw Rice out of the league.
But why did it take the release of video to get them to do the right thing? NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted he “got it wrong,” but it took way too much yelling and screaming by the public and women’s groups for him to get it right, something a stand-up guy would have felt instinctively. You don’t hit people, especially women. Ever. Period.
And as for cancer, while you have to acknowledge that 230,000 new cases and 40,000 deaths is far too many, cancers of the respiratory system will kill four times as many people in the United States in 2015 than breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Such numbers suggest a more pressing need for awareness of lung cancer than with breast cancer, at least when you apply the desultory calculus of where to spend too limited resources.
And there’s another thing. If the NFL is determined to end the scourge of breast cancer, why won’t it let Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams wear it all season, not just in October? For Williams, who lost his mother and four aunts to breast cancer and recently paid for 50 women to have mammograms, the disease isn’t a marketing opportunity. It’s personal. But the league said wearing pink on his schedule violates league uniform policies, and that’s against the rules.
So Williams says he’s going to dye his hair. Pink.
Now that’s how to be a stand-up guy.