The National Fine League

I simply have had enough of this already. For the rest of this post, toss out the “rules are rules” argument, because for one, the rules are a part of the problem.

There has been plenty of news surrounding NFL players and the NFL in the month of October. The month that is also known as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Every season since 2009, players and referees are decked out from head to toe in pink accessories, from gloves to cleats, to towels and wristbands. This is all due in part to help raise the awareness of the deadly disease of breast cancer, as well as cancer in general.

The popularity of this event has even trickled down to collegiate athletics, high school and even youth sports. and national athletic apparel retailers all sell these accessories for athletes to wear during their games and practices.

All of this is without a doubt is and has been a great idea since it began six years ago. Cancer, in some way, shape, or form, has touched nearly everybody’s lives. Whether it be a family member, a close friend, or even yourself, this hellish disease is a real part of our lives.

And of course, the NFL (or as I say the “No Fun League”) finds a way to surround this great cause with controversy and money.

Pittsburgh Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams, cornerback William Gay and defensive-end Cameron Heyward have all received fines from the NFL over uniform violations that involve them supporting these types of causes.

Williams was fined $5,787 for wearing custom eye-black that had “Find The Cure” written across the eye-black. Williams has been wearing custom eye-black for years, but this is the first time he has been fined for doing such a thing.

Of course, there is also this. The NFL won’t let Williams wear pink year around because that would violate the NFL’s precise uniform violations.


Cornerback William Gay (above) was also fined $5,787, this time for wearing purple cleats, to raise the awareness for, you guessed it, domestic violence abuse.

Gay’s mother was shot and killed by his stepfather when he was just 7-years old. Gay has publicly spoken out against domestic violence throughout his career and his been looked at as an ambassador over the issue, appearing in multiple PSA’s.  

Cameron Heyward has piled up $17,363 in fines over wearing custom eye-black similar to Williams. He writes “Iron” and “Head” on his eye-black to honor his late father who passed away with cancer. Also like Williams, this isn’t the first time he has worn the custom “IronHead” eye-black, but it is the first time he has gotten fined for doing so.

“To lose a person like that due to cancer, for cancer awareness, I don’t think it should be a big deal at all,” Heyward told ESPN Senior NFL Writer Jeremy Fowler.

Heyward also added that he isn’t trying to be difficult about the rules.

“There are a lot of other things we could be worried about,” said Heyward about the league’s decision to fine for such expression. “Guys want to do right by the league. They don’t want to upset anybody. I do it to honor somebody, DeAngelo does it to honor somebody, it shouldn’t be taken to offense by anybody. We’re not trying to gain publicity by it. We grew up in this game loving it. To be a part of it is a blessing, but I want to honor [my dad],” Heyward told Fowler.

Let’s back track a bit.

First off, the NFL straight up telling Williams “No” on if he can wear pink all season to honor his mother’s passing is heartless. I understand the NFL has a no exception policy when it comes to their uniforms, but not to even receive some sort of thoughtful explanation?

It’s also worth pointing out, that the first video on the NFL’s website happens to be DeAngelo Williams talking about “what pink means to him.”

Cameron Heyward had to appeal his fines to get them “significantly reduced” by the NFL. Another case of the NFL higher-ups realizing that fining a guy up to $20,000 because of eye-black might come off as an egregious amount.

But William Gay’s fine takes the cake for me.

It wasn’t even a year ago, when the NFL and Roger Goodell were weekly being thrashed for their lenient punishment on the Ray Rice case, as well the cases of Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy, among others.

And in 2015, here William Gay is wearing purple cleats, not pink, to support a different cause. $5,787 for supporting domestic violence awareness, really NFL? If anything, you should be paying William Gay to be an NFL ambassador on domestic violence.

Gay is the type of man you want representing your league. Not guys like Greg Hardy of the Dallas Cowboys, who has a past of domestic violence, and is about to receive a contract extension with the Cowboys, a week after getting into a confrontation with a coach. 

There’s of course, another side to this story.

In 2013, a Business Insider report said that “only 8.01% of money spent on Pink NFL merchandise is actually going towards cancer research.”

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 1.48.38 PM

Now, I should start by saying that the American Cancer Society is not complaining about any of this, I would assume. They accept donations from anybody in any sort of form. But many are not aware of how much of the money goes back to the retailer and manufacturer, and not to research. 

It’s also worth noting that the most common place to buy the pink gear is the league’s online store, so the NFL also acts as the retailer in many cases. If I were a Business major, I would be applauding how business savvy that is, but I’m not.

The NFL is not the only professional sports league that does this. Every mother’s Day, the MLB raises breast cancer awareness in the same form, and has raised hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars in breast cancer awareness too.

What to take away from it, less than 10% of the merchandise sales goes back to the ACS.

Until people stop buying NFL gear, watching their games in record ratings, and continue to buy tickets, not much will change. We’re all victims of this, myself included.

But when a multi-billion dollar industry dishes out such petty fines to players for supporting and representing good causes and being role models for the younger generation.

That’s where the “fine” line is crossed.


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