Since 2009, the NFL has dedicated the month of October to raising money and awareness for breast cancer. But the league will expand that effort with a new plan for October that will debut next season.
The focus on breast cancer alone has earned praise, but also criticism. The NFL will likely continue to provoke both emotions starting in 2017 when teams will be able to choose their own cancer causes to support every October, according to MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas.
The process of changing the October cancer awareness plan began in 2014. Devon Still’s young daughter Leah Still was fighting Stage 4 neuroblastoma, prompting NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to write a letter to Still offering support.
Still wrote back and suggested to Goodell that the NFL’s October breast cancer awareness month be expanded and raise awareness for other types of cancer. The commissioner listened and told teams they would be instituting that change in 2017 during a conference call last week.
“It lets me know that he’s listening,” Still, who is now on injured reserve with the Texans, said. “For a long time, we have been supporting causes close to the heads of the NFL. To find out they are really following through with this, it makes me feel like the players are gaining more of a voice.”
During its “A Crucial Catch” initiative, the NFL has put pink everywhere since 2009 including the sidelines, on the uniforms, and on advertisements. The month-long event would work with the American Cancer Society to raise money for screenings and education. Starting next season, teams can choose breast cancer or any other form of cancer for which to raise money and awareness during a three-week period every October.
One interesting note in the change is that teams can choose to support multiple forms of cancer every season and can change the cancer(s) for which they raise awareness every season as well.
“It’s a balancing act,” Anna Isaacson, the NFL’s VP of social responsibility, said. “We have seen a lot of success in having focused, strategic campaigns. Focusing on one cause, fundraising for it, bringing it to life, choosing a message, spreading word among our fans. We are committed to that.”
“Screenings are one of the biggest gaps in underserved communities,” Sharon Byers, the chief marketing and development officer for the ACS, said.
When the partnership began in 2009, screening and education were what the American Cancer Society asked for the NFL to help with. During the eight years the NFL has run this campaign, it has raised close to $15 million.
Another interesting new initiative in this plan is that the American Cancer Society will be using funds from the NFL to launch a free digital tool which allows people to enter their info and find out what screenings they need at their age. From there, it’ll help them schedule appointments with local doctors. It is scheduled to be released sometime around August.
The final details of the campaign are still being ironed out. For example, a logo is still being drawn up and the NFL and ACS are thinking of ways to promote the campaign since there will no longer be a signature color incorporated into products and uniforms.
“The truth is, as we transition in 2017, it will be a different kind of year,” Isaacson says. “Once we see how that goes, we will know more for 2018. We hope we raise, if not the same, more than we have, of course. The pressure is on to think about how we can do that. That’s the goal, but I wouldn’t say we have solved that yet.”