Block & Tackle is John Teti’s column about pro football.
Garish splashes of pink abounded on NFL broadcasts and playing fields this Sunday, and it’s hard to imagine a more awkward time for the NFL to launch its annual salute to women. Okay, that’s not true: Three weeks ago would have been worse. But with the league’s colorful assortment of domestic-violence scandals still hanging in the air, it was more difficult than usual to stomach the league’s self-serving messages about women’s health.
But the NFL’s Crucial Catch initiative has always invited skepticism. It’s a breast cancer awareness program, “awareness” being the preferred way for major corporations to talk about a disease without really talking about it. The word “awareness” offers a sterile distance so that the league and its media partners don’t have to discuss cancer in any detail—they can just trumpet the importance of learning about it (from someone else). And that’s a relief for them, because cancer is a real downer that makes a terrible lead-in for truck commercials.
Crucial Catch is not actively evil, though, which is harder to say about some other aspects of NFL operations. It’s more tiresome than anything, because its supposedly high-minded message for women is expressed in the most patronizing manner possible: by peddling pink stuff at them. At a time when McDonald’s is fairly criticized for offering girls pink-ified Spider-Man gear in its Happy Meals, the NFL is doing the same thing for grown women. Look, darling, we made a special pink version of football, just for you! It matches the color of your mysterious vulva, so we know you’ll like it.
The pink ends up acting as a proxy for women in a male-dominant league. When DirecTV’s Red Zone channel had to cut away from the action this Sunday, host Andrew Siciliano used the opportunity to talk about Crucial Catch. To accompany this public service announcement about women’s health, the camera panned across a pile of pink apparel and merchandise with a pink ribbon logo in the background. NFL shields on screen: two. Nike swooshes on screen: two-and-a-half. Women on screen: zero, unless you count pink shoes as women, which is essentially what the league does every October.
The bottom-line reasoning behind Crucial Catch is not hard to discern. As USA Today’s Brent Schrotenboer recently pointed out—other people pointed it out, too, but none of them are as fun to say as Brent Schrotenboer—the NFL’s popularity among men has reached near-saturation. If the sport wants to maintain its growth, it has to broaden its fan base beyond the Y-chromosome set. There are probably people better than me to advise the NFL on appealing to women, since by all accounts I am not one. But here’s a possible starting point: Less pink, more women.
One upside to the Crucial Catch aesthetic is that pink is its own punishment. It looks as dumb as it is. But the magenta scourge hits some harder than others. Here are the winners and losers of a pink Week 5.
Loser: St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher. How Jeff Fisher’s sunglasses failed to make a list of “offenses today” is beyond me.
Winners: New England Patriots. The Patriots are the rare team whose uniforms benefit from a splash of pink—it gives life to a look that’s usually dragged down by the dingy silver-gray accent color that New England uses on its shoulders and pants.
Losers: Superdome goalposts. It looks like they’re being held up by a bruised dog penis.
Winner: Referee Ron Torbert. The pink campaign gives him an opportunity to wear extra wristbands, which is great because he has really sweaty wrists.