Throughout the month of October, the National Football League is celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness month, paying tribute to and raising awareness for a disease that has taken countless lives and affected so many more.
But while pink is being spread throughout the stadiums, the main color of focus in the NFL right now is black.
The only thing Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward wanted to do was to honor his late father, who died of bone cancer nine years ago.
So, in a subtle yet powerful gesture, Heyward wore eye black in the last three games with one strip reading “IRON” and the other reading “HEAD,” honoring the late fullback and father who was known by the nickname, “Ironhead.”
Not a lot of people really knew about Heyward wearing the eye black during the game, myself included. It was not until the NFL fined Heyward $5,787 in Week 5 for “violating its policy on personal messages,” according to an ESPN report, that it became national news.
So what’s the problem here?
Frankly, I don’t know. You tell me. Heyward is honoring another variant of the same disease that the NFL is honoring and is doing so in a subtle fashion that does not affect the product on the field or distract anybody.
The personal message Heyward was sending is the same message that the NFL is trying to spread around the league. Hypocritical much? Well, calling the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, a hypocrite is like calling water wet or a football field green, but that is beside the point.
Moving onto Week 6, Heyward did the right thing. He wore the eye black again, and got fined again. This time to the tune of $11,576, more than double his previous fine.
He is not even doing it rebelliously. He has decided that he wants to wear these until the end of the month, exactly coinciding with the NFL’s time frame of the Breast Cancer Awareness month.
Heyward’s reasoning for wearing the eye black is straightforward, filled with common sense and gratitude and makes a ton of sense. So naturally, the NFL disapproves.
“A lot of people are struggling with cancer, and that’s what my message was,” Heyward said last Monday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s not just about me and my love for my father. There are a lot of people out there struggling. In a month when breast cancer is honored, I think every type of cancer should be honored as well.”
What a well-thought response to the league’s criticism. But since it is a “personal message,” Heyward gets fined.
Let’s throw out this hypothesis: Say his mother died of breast cancer and he wanted to wear pink on his uniform all year to support her. This is the same disease that the NFL supports and campaigns against, so common sense would say yes right?
Well, ask DeAngelo Williams. He wanted to do this but the NFL said no. Why?
According to the NFL’s personal conduct policy, “…players are prohibited from wearing, displaying, or otherwise conveying personal messages either in writing or illustration, unless such message has been approved in advance by the League office.”
Furthermore, “Items to celebrate anniversaries… are prohibited unless approved in advance by the league office. All such items must relate to team or League events or personages.”
In the case of Heyward, there is no indication whether he went through the proper channels in order to get approval from the league, so that is up in the air still. In William’s case, he asked the league if he could do so and the league said no. That makes so much sense.
So in a month dedicated to supporting breast cancer awareness, the NFL has decided to shut down two personal movements to support the disease or one related to it. Two players that have had their families affected by cancer have been told no by the league.
I know he has done well when it comes to expanding and growing the game of football in the country and in the world, but at the next owners’ meeting, can somebody please smack Goodell upside the head?
Hopefully, it will put some common sense into him. It is desperately needed in this league. Please and thank you.
FEATURED PHOTO CREDIT: MICHAEL TIPTON/FLICKER