If you've been watching football for the past two weeks, you've probably noticed the plethora of pink items the players are wearing in support of breast cancer awareness. During the month of October, the NFL partners with the American Cancer Society to raise awareness about the illness and funding for research. Personally, I appreciate the NFL's involvement and encourage them to continue (in measureable and meaningful ways—not by reducing something as devastating as cancer into a cutesy meme, where the fundraising is less significant than "Ooh, he's wearing pink!") However, I want the league to make domestic violence its big national October campaign going forward. That means not just replacing pink with purple, but also making a real effort to lead on the subject.
I realize that taking up this particular cause would put the league in danger of potential controversy by drawing more attention to incidents committed by and against NFL players. There's already a lot of attention paid to NFL arrests even though statistical analysis typically shows that athletes, including football players, are statistically slightly less likely to get in trouble than the rest of the population. That being said, it's safe to say the league legitimately has a domestic violence issue because America has one. And that's exactly why it would be worth the risk.
The NFL is a 9 billion dollar machine with an incredible reach—including it's own television channel. Imagine how effective it might be having the league's biggest stars like Adrian Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald visit shelters for battered women and appearing on commercials reminding folks that physical and emotional violence is never acceptable. Men and boys look up to their favorite gridiron heroes and would likely be receptive to their messages about manhood. The players could also talk about female to male domestic violence and encourage men to recognize signs they're being abused.
There would also be an internal benefit to such a campaign. The NFL and its union make many resources available to players. The trick is getting players to take advantage—which would difficult for a variety of reasons. If the NFL makes domestic violence a campaign players could receive mandatory training and counseling to help them set a positive example for the public and their peers. But the biggest benefit would be much more funding for domestic violence victims to get things like phones, cars, reconstructive surgery and places for them, their children and pets to stay.
Make no mistake, America's largest sport already has a lot on its plate. Tuesday night, the documentary "League of Denial" aired in which the league's handling of information about the dangers of playing football came under fire. The documentary essentially accused the league of bullying researchers and conspiring to hide their findings from the public. And because of the league's size, it's constantly under scrutiny for this thing or that. Certainly, I can understand if the last thing the NFL wants to do is stir the pot.
Still, I'd like to see the league use its influence to bring awareness to a problem that desperately needs attention. Breast cancer awareness remains an important issue the NFL should continue to support. However, with breast cancer death rates dropping and knowledge of the disease at its peak, it's a perfect time for the NFL to change course on its biggest campaign and show some bravery in the process. Keep the cancer research checks coming and direct the awareness campaign where it's needed most.
For more information on domestic violence month take a look at President Obama's official statement declaring October Domestic Violence Awareness Month.