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NFL’s ‘Crucial Catch’ Sets Standard for Cancer Awareness in Sports

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Courtesy of USA Football

Courtesy of USA Football

Courtesy of USA Football

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Fans tuning in to watch a football game Sunday afternoon may have noticed that the signature pink helmet-stickers, referee hats, and logos decorating the field—all synonymous with the month of October—have been replaced with multi-color decals and apparel.

This change marks a transition in the NFL’s “Crucial Catch” campaign, which has expanded this year to include all screenable cancers, not just breast cancer. The initiative, which was founded in 2009, now encourages “early screenings and risk reduction efforts for multiple cancers,” according to an NFL press release.

In keeping with the campaign’s message, each team has the ability to host events and raise awareness about one or more cancers of their choice during weeks 5-7 of the regular season, as well as wear gear of the corresponding color. While some teams decided to continue to support breast cancer, the majority have elected to advocate for the prevention of all cancers, and the New York Jets elected to promote pediatric cancer research.

The updated “Crucial Catch” campaign should serve as a model for all professional sports leagues looking to bring attention to various types of cancers. Not only does it raise a significant amount of money—more than $18 million dollars over the last eight years—for the American Cancer Society’s research efforts, but its implementation also places the most emphasis on cancer awareness and prevention.

The duration of  “Crucial Catch” –  three weeks – allows NFL teams to host a number of events and fundraisers and gives the league a significant amount of time to air advertisements and PSAs informing viewers about different cancers and encouraging them to get screened. While the MLB (Major League Baseball) allocates different, individual days or weekends to support different illnesses, which is certainly a noble cause, the sporadic nature of those events makes it less likely that the league’s message will resonate with fans.

Moreover, the unity the NFL’s teams convey during “Crucial Catch” adds to the urgency of the initiative, something other leagues don’t have to the same extent.  In the NBA, individual teams can establish cancer awareness nights or months, like the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Breast Cancer Awareness Night or Colon Cancer Awareness Night, but there are not as many league-wide campaigns. If there was a set period of time during which all teams advocated and raised money for different cancers, the campaign would be more cohesive and hold more weight.

In all fairness, the MLB and NBA are at a disadvantage given that neither of them have sustained regular season play throughout the month October; the baseball playoffs are coming to a close, and the NBA has only just had its opener. However, dedicating a different month or a few weeks to cancer awareness advocacy would be a simple solution.

This isn’t to say that other sports leagues aren’t doing enough to raise awareness for cancers; in fact, all of them put forth tremendous effort to shed light on illness affecting millions in the United States and millions more across the globe. However, following in the footsteps of “Crucial Catch” is the best way to ensure that cancer prevention has an even better place in the spotlight.

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NFL’s ‘Crucial Catch’ Sets Standard for Cancer Awareness in Sports