The National Football League’s annual month-long barrage of pink-themed merchandising to raise breast cancer awareness has been criticized in the past for a number of reasons ; for starters, the actual amount of money raised for cancer research is rather modest. And it’s been suggested more than once that such p.r. efforts serve to distract from the NFL workforce’s propensity towards, y’know, domestic violence. Writing an op-ed for Sunday’s Guardian, Karuna Jagger declares, “the NFL can add one more embarrassing oversight to its mistreatment of women: bad medical advice.”
The mainstay of the NFL’s so-called Crucial Catch program is the promotion, on-air and in stadiums, of annual mammography screening for women age 40 and over. By repeating an overly simplistic and disproven promise that “annual screening saves lives”, the NFL isn’t just failing to improve women’s health – the league is doing us a grave disservice full of medical misinformation.
By partnering with the American Cancer Society to urge women to undergo tests, the NFL is veering from professional sports empire to public health advisor. Why is the NFL giving women medical advice in the first place? The league’s claim that “annual screening saves lives” has been widely discredited by numerous studies showing that it’s not mammograms that save lives: regardless of whether breast cancer is found through an annual screening or by a woman herself, the best way to prevent death from breast cancer is by providing accessible, high-quality, evidence-based healthcare and treatment in a timely, sensitive way. Imagine seeing that on a pink NFL billboard.
In 2009, when the NFL started Crucial Catch, the evidence was clear that mammography screening had been overhyped as a solution to breast cancer. In that year, the US Preventive Services Task Force changed their recommendation that women have mammograms every one to two years starting at age 40 to every two years starting at age 50. Now, five years into the NFL’s outdated and inaccurate campaign, the evidence is even more overwhelming that early detection is a flawed strategy that distracts from meaningful solutions.