The danger the NFL faces with players seeking ways to bring awareness to a cause, honor to a loved one

This morning, Cam Heyward shared the above tweet. He says that because of the eye black he wore, the NFL fined him. The eye black was a tribute to his father, a former NFL player, who died in 2006 from cancer.

On the surface, it looks like the NFL has no heart. How could they fine a man who was paying tribute to his father who died of cancer? Of course, the reasoning for this would likely stem from the NFL’s rules of not allowing personal messages to be placed on eye blacks. The rule doesn’t give exception no matter what. The only way that would have been allowed was to have league approval prior to the action being taken. It doesn’t seem like Heyward did that, so that’s why the fine came. They didn’t fine him for the tribute. They fined him simply on him breaking the rules.

The story coincides with the situation DeAngelo Williams is in. If you are unfamiliar with it, here is the story. Williams lost four aunts and his mother to breast cancer. But the league won’t allow him to wear pink outside of October and won’t make an exception. The NFL allows pink in October but once that 31-day window is done, the time to express concern and awareness to it is over around the league.

Once again, like the Heyward situation, it’s a balance between cause and rules. The cause for supporting breast cancer awareness is a good one and it should not be confined to one month. The league has tried to maintain an image that they care about it but it’s been clear that it’s a front for their public image. There is no harm in wearing pink outside of October. The NFL just doesn’t want to open a can of worms. (After all, they have to wear camouflage in November and that would just clash.)

If the league, hypothetically, gives the exception for Williams to wear pink the rest of the year, everyone would be happy. But what if another player makes the same request? The league would have to oblige.

What if a player makes a request but for a different cause? Brandon Marshall is an advocate for mental health awareness but he was fined for it. What if the league said no if Marshall asked in advanced? That would make the NFL look like a league that has no care about mental health issues.

And what if someone wants to pay a military tribute on September? Is that OK?

If one cause is important to someone, then someone else must have a passion for another cause. The one exception would put the league in a situation where they have to allow Marshall to wear green for his cause. Somebody might approach the NFL about wearing different colors for the different kind of cancer diseases. Bladder cancer is marigold; brain cancer is grey; cervical cancer is teal; etc. The NFL has to decide if they can allow any or all of it.

What if a player proposes something dear to him that isn’t cancer related? Does the league automatically decline that request? And if the league starts obliging, how many athletes will make up a story just so they can wear a different color for their own pleasure?

There is a reason why the league doesn’t want this freedom of wearing different things outside the uniform for certain periods. One “yes” would put the pressure on them to start accepting requests left and right. Soon enough, the field will be littered with too many colors and the league will have a PR nightmare on their hands.

This isn’t to defend the league in their decision to decline Williams’ request. This isn’t saying that the league has to accommodate every request. But the players have a big platform and they want to use it for good. (Some might also see a great opportunity to abuse it as well.) The league understands that platform but know that if they oblige, then the Pandora’s Box is opened.

There is no perfect solution. Whatever decision is made, the NFL will look like the bad guy. They’ve decided to take the option that is less complicated.


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