Breast Cancer, the NFL, and Pink Cleats: Is This a Good Thing?

  I’m watching the Colts/Packers game, and I can’t stop staring at all the pink on the field.  Pink shoes.  Pink gloves.  Pink side-towel-hand-warmer things and wristlets and whistles.   Pink codpieces patches on the pants drawing the eye to the junk.  Pink NFL website promoting Pink Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

And I can’t decide: what do I think of all this?  In no particular order:

  1. Men at the peak of the traditional heteronormative masculinity pyramid in our culture are showing other men and boys that one can wear pink and still occupy the peak of the traditional heteronormative masculinity pyramid.  This is probably good.  (EDIT FOR OBVIOUSNESS: “Good” only insofar as encouraging men to continue to strive for the peak of said pyramid regardless of their personal inclinations is “good,” which is “not much.”  I conflated “being respected for a particular type of gender performance” with “being respected as an individual” originally, which is not sufficient.)
  2. They would not be wearing all the pink were it not in support of breast cancer “awareness” and research.  It’s not the supporting breast cancer awareness/research that bothers me; it’s the fact that pink would be verboten if it were not for breast cancer research support.
  3. Specifically, it’s a-wearin’ of the pink in solidarity for a charitable cause.  The players aren’t wearing pink because they want to or because it’s a fundamentally okay thing for guys to do; they’re wearing it as a sacrifice.  I’m not sure the “supporting charity is good!” message in that outweighs the “pink is something traditional heteronormative masculinity-performing dudes only wear in order to ‘take one for the team,’ not because it is okay to wear it!” here.
  4. The NFL + breast cancer research: what’s the story behind this, anyway?  Why breast cancer specifically?  Has the NFL realized women watch football too, or does it think more women would watch if there were more pink involved?  (I do not, sadly, think it is that the NFL has realized men can also get breast cancer; nothing on the pinkified website even hints that that’s a consideration here.)
  5. Or is it just an extraordinary opportunity to cash in on a traditional heteronormative masculine performance restriction (THOU SHALT NOT WEAR PINK) by highlighting is so profoundly (the most traditionally heteronormative masculine performers that ever did perform, wearing the most traditionally heteronormative feminine-coded color!  NOTICE IT!).  If so, well played, for I am definitely noticing it.

Numbers 4 and 5 interest me specifically because I don’t buy that “it’s just a game” or “it’s just a color.”  Somebody, or a committee of somebodys, made the conscious choice to link the NFL and the Pepto-Bismol Pink Awareness campaign and to do it in this specific way, by having the players wear pink and then by auctioning off the pink items specifically.  (One can auction off non-pink football paraphernalia just as easily; recall that Ohio State recently took sanctions from the NCAA when its players did precisely that.)

And it’s not just that October has been designated Breast Cancer Awareness Month; October, like all months, is a lot of things, including:

  • Domestic Violence Awareness Month (whose designated ribbon-shade is purple),
  • Bullying Prevention Awareness Month (a cause that is perhaps better suited to championing by those at the peak of the traditional heteronormative masculinity pyramid, a social area that frequently overlaps with, or is perceived to overlap with, that of bullying),
  • LGBT Awareness Month (see “bullying prevention awareness month” and “traditional heteronormative masculinity performance”)
  • and Auto Battery Safety Month (for which I can think up no plausible connection to the NFL, but feel free to submit one in comments).

I tend to operate under two hypotheses: (1) that all texts are readable and (2) that most human expressions constitute “texts.”    And this one doesn’t read as particularly progressive to me.


About Verity Reynolds

Verity Reynolds is the author of NANTAIS, an autistic space opera that never uses the word "autism." Buy her a coffee:
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