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Can the NFL make pink a legit sport color?

October 1, 2009 – 4:03 PM


By Laura Pappano

I can’t wait to see what happens when I tune in to the NFL this weekend. Will we see more dropped passes? Missed routes? Hugging and giggling in the huddle?

After all, the league is kicking off a month-long effort to support breast cancer awareness through its “Crucial Catch” campaign to encourage regular mammograms. Unlike last year, when teams handed out pink ribbons and sold pink fan T-shirts, this year players, coaches, and refs will be having actual pink-colored items touching their bodies.

Smartly, however, the NFL (as it does so well) has imposed limits on the amount of pink. About 100 players will be wearing pink cleats like this, others will wear pink wristbands, gloves, and helmet decals. The captain’s patches will be pink and they’ll use a pink coin for the toss.

Pink, as I’m sure you know, is a very dangerous color.


The explosion of pink merchandise (MLB, NFL, among others), like pink sports gear — from baseball and softball gloves to soccer balls and lax sticks — after all, has been positioned as a concession to female fans and girl athletes. Turn it pink and it’s a little less threatening. We’ve been conditioned to think of pink as soft, gentle, diminutive, a little ditzy, perky, bubbly….(you get the idea). Not hard core competitive stuff.


Of course, that’s precisely what University of Iowa football coach Hayden Fry insisted when in the 1970s he had the walls of the visiting team’s locker room painted pink to “weaken and debilitate opposing football players.” (In 2005 the color was extended to the carpet, urinals and lockers – setting off more than a little debate — photo here).


To be fair, the Iowa shade is a bit paler than the NFL is showing this month. Perhaps it is the difference between dusty rose and a near magenta? We can call it “Power Pink,” but there’s no doubt that the psychological signaling around this color is getting awfully confusing (for a change).

Just 10 days ago Nicole Lavoi wrote on her blog One Sport Voice, about the still-alive-and-well practice of a hockey coach belittling a player by making him wear pink gloves. Did this coach not know about NFL players wearing pink gloves? Or might pink –gasp! — be on the cusp of an image makeover?

Credit those who take a stand and raise awareness about the critical importance of cancer screening (and kudos to Susan G. Komen for the Cure for pioneering the pink ribbon as a symbol of breast cancer awareness in 1991). Heck, the other day I saw a pink oil tank truck and yesterday a pink newspaper landed in my driveway. If this isn’t a sign of success, what is?


Yet, how can we normalize the overly-loaded color pink when guys like my friend, political writer Dave Denison, point out that they have been trained since childhood to find the color repellant? (And Dave in print and in person is the quintessential fair-minded dude).

Can Dave be persuaded by the likes of Brett Favre to rethink his pink aversion? (To be fair, I’m not nutty about the color, either, but perhaps I, too, have fallen under Fry’s spell?) Maybe the NFL needs to stop being so timid and go full tilt. Make the jerseys and helmets pink (think of the merchandising – it could rival throwbacks!). Why not make the football pink? And who says the lines on the field have to be white?

Then maybe we could move past all this silliness about pink – and onto whatever is next.  Like, say, What color is prostate cancer awareness?

  1. One Response to “Can the NFL make pink a legit sport color?”

  2. Here is one for you about “pinkification”

    By Nicole LaVoi on Jan 13, 2010

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