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Handful of PeterIt is October, and once again the month is awash with pink. Pink pens, pink water bottles, pink ribbons and pro athletes, like NFL players and the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, are donning pink game apparel. On Thursday night, one side of the White House was lit up pink on one side for breast cancer awareness. While I appreciate the sentiment and effort for awareness, I can’t help thinking: Is all the pink for breast cancer awareness worth the while?

Those in the Trenches

When I was in my early 20s, my journalist boyfriend was working on a story about a local Relay for Life. As I was working on my own piece about young women living with breast cancer, I was eager to attend the event with him. Eager is probably the wrong word. I wanted to show my support, and I wanted to bear witness to the survivors and many women still living with active breast cancer.

I was not prepared for the emotional overload that I would experience at that event. Women in various stages of the disease were walking their leg of the relay next to family members and friends. People who’d lost someone close to cancer were paying tribute to their loved one’s memory. Survivors had bright smiles and hugs for the women who were currently fighting the battle—and still finding the strength within to walk laps to raise funds for research and services for people living with breast cancer. These women are warriors, I thought at the time. Their stories, their message, their actions are what truly sparks awareness and spur change.

Pro Teams Have a Powerful Sounding Board

This is not to discredit the fact that the NFL and NBA have the potential to be a significantly larger sounding board to spread awareness. After all, according to NFL Communications, 200 million people in the U.S. watched professional football during the 2012 regular season. Averaging 21.4 million viewers, NBC Sunday Night Football was the most watched primetime program for the third consecutive fall season. The NBA playoffs averaged 5.3 millions viewers alone in 2012, according to Sports Media Watch. In addition to having one of the most-watched finals in sports, the NBA, with a huge youth fan base, became the first sports league globally to reach more than 5 million followers n May 2012, according to Listverse; they now have more than 8 million.

Certainly, millions of sports fans are seeing pink during the month of October, but does that translate into dollars toward cancer research? I can’t help the skepticism after hearing about the controversial breakdown of Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s funds. Not all pink ribbon purchases actually go toward breast cancer research, and if they do, the percentage is so small it’s insulting. So what about pro sports teams?

Pro Athletes Don Pink For Breast Cancer; Is It Worth The While?

On Wednesday, the Sacramento Kings drew special attention to Breast Cancer Awareness in their preseason game against the Golden State Warriors, wearing pink sneakers and shoelaces and showing breast cancer awareness messages. The team honored a long-time Sacramento resident who died of breast cancer, Albie Carson, as well as one of their biggest fans who recently announced she had been diagnosed with the disease. The proceeds from the sale of special Kings/pink ribbon t-shirts went to the Albie Aware foundation.

NFL’s A Crucial Catch campaign offers breast cancer screening reminders and invites other sports teams and fans to join the efforts to raise funds for the American Cancer Society in a Making Strides Against Breast Cancer wall. The NFL also sells pink merchandise from its NFLShop, with more than 1000 items ranging from team decals and beanies to a $269 Anastasio Moda NFL 2013 Breast Cancer Awareness Sofia Zippered Laptop and $139 Wilson NFL Official Breast Cancer Awareness Football. All pink game apparel worn by players, coaches and refs, as well as special game balls and pink coins are going to be up for bid at the NFL Auction. One hundred percent of the funds raised will go toward the American Cancer Society’s Community Health Advocates National Grants for Empowerment, or CHANGE, program. This program works to increase access to breast cancer screening in communities where there are health disparities.

Sounds legit enough to me; so the moral of the story? Research the organizations and teams where you contribute your money. Find out where your dollars actually go and how they are spent. Make sure these groups are not just shooting air balls with your well-intended donations.

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