Pink NFL gear for Breast Cancer Awareness Month is little more than a money-making ploy.
The NFL regular season is more than halfway done and as we head toward the playoffs, the marketing schemes to increase female viewership will only get more cloying and pathetic. Female fandom in the NFL is incredibly strange. Instead of treating women like fans and lovers of the game, the NFL has gone so far as to pretend to be an ally for feminism, a champion against breast cancer, and a beacon of hope for the female struggle. Unfortunately, corporations are not advocates. They are not our friends, they are not people, and they most certainly do not care about you or your gel manicure.
Corporations have to show growth. They want numbers to go up, and sales to be BIG! Instead of being excited about the $7.4 billion it brought in last year—enough for 10 missions to Pluto!—the NFL has to show its shareholders that the league is getting more profitable by the year. Unfortunately, it’s maxed out its male audience—every man who could be a football fan already is. Now it’s time to set sights on a new frontier. Women.
In some ways, I don’t blame the pandering. For women, fandom already requires us to put aside a lot. As Rebecca Bunch aptly said on this season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, “I don’t hate football. I get why it’s fun. It just kind of propagates the ideology of physical dominance and the economic subjugation of the working poor, plus the concussions…it should be illegal. LOL.” But the NFL does not see women as fans who have to put aside domestic violence, lack of female referees and coaches, and racist symbolism. It sees us as simpletons who cannot even wrap our tiny lady brains around a sport that is very easy to understand. The NFL believes that females need football to be draped in pink, covered in sparkles, wearing a push-up bra, and dumbed way down.
Last February, the NFL Shop sponsored a Ladies Night in San Francisco. This convention of ugly purses (ranging $3,500–$4,500), “fanicures,” and wine tastings seemed to focus on everything but the sport it was all about. “It makes us feel special. I don’t know if the guys have anything like this going on,” one woman told local news. They guys do have something like that going on—16 games a year where they can easily look past player allegations of rape and abuse because it doesn’t affect them. Missing from the event: Any one of the 1,696 players in the NFL who could spare a moment for an appearance. Similar product-oriented events have happened all around the country in the past year.
In one of the vaguest moments in recent NFL history, Roger Goodell hosted a Women’s Summit in advance of Super Bowl 50. The NFL announced a “Rooney Rule” to ensure that employers consider women for executive positions, just like it mandates that the good ol’ boy football network at least give non-white men a look. It’s been nearly a year, and no concrete implementation of this rule has come about. Amy Trask, a football analyst for CBS Sports and former CEO of the Oakland Raiders, commented on this tokenism: “It both angers and saddens me that there is a need for a Rooney Rule of any sort, as everyone—every business—should hire [and fire] without regard to race, religion, ethnicity, or gender.”
Other less-thinky initiatives are also stomach-churning. Earlier this year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers introduced a program called RED that the New York Times called “born of out of a social sensibility circa 1951.” RED has suggestions for recipes to whip up for your man, craft projects, and “everything you’ll need to know about the X’s and O’s on the field.” The program was panned but that didn’t stop awful content like this “RED Clinic” video on how a pass play works from seeing the light of day. It’s easier to pander to the idea of a woman than actual women, isn’t it?
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There are also football clubs for women for nearly every team, that, like the NFL shop events, seem to be more about recreating Pinterest IRL than discussing team stats, meet-and-greets with players or commentators, or getting excited about the season ahead. Because women like shopping, not numbers!
Meanwhile, cheerleaders, usually the only women represented on the field, still face struggles for basic equality. We know this thanks to lawsuits that have shed light on their minimum wage horror careers, like this one from the now-defunct Buffalo Bills Jills. The still-ongoing lawsuit featured choice verbiage from the Jills handbook. My favorite: “14. Do not be overly opinionated about anything. Do not complain about anything—ever hang out with a whiner? It’s exhausting and boring.” From the Ben-Gals handbook: “No panties are to be worn under practice clothes or uniform, not even thong panties.”
Which brings us to the pink nightmare we are currently in. Yes, I’m talking about the NFL’s commitment to supporting the cure for breast cancer through the Susan G. Komen Fund. We now know that the league only gives a tiny amount of its Pluto-mission-size billions to the cause that it shoves down our throats. From Business Insider: “For every $100 in pink merchandise sold, $12.50 goes to the NFL. Of that, $11.25 goes to the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the NFL keeps the rest. The remaining money is then divided up by the company that makes the merchandise (37.5 percent) and the company that sells the merchandise (50.0 percent), which is often the NFL and the individual teams.” Nevermind the fact that Susan G. Komen doesn’t do any actual research for the cure.
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It’s a shame that it’s 2016 and the NFL cannot just feel pleased that 45 percent of its fans are women. That’s actually pretty good, considering the league punished repeat domestic abuser Josh Brown by suspending him for a single game after a domestic violence arrest. Sure, some women do like manicures and shearling leather baseball caps. But at least give us the dignity to talk to women like adult watchers of the sport instead of female caricatures who talk in baby-voices. After all, women are the fastest growing demographic in the league.