This month the NFL is putting on pink and flexing its marketing muscle for a good cause. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Players, stadiums, websites and everything in between will be covered in pink, part of a campaign to encourage annual breast cancer screenings for women.
Denver Broncos Von Miller is one of the millions of Americans whose lives have been changed forever by the disease. His grandmother died because of breast cancer when he was younger. This season he is one of the game's ambassadors, working with Dick's Sporting Goods for the "Sport You Support" campaign.
"I just thought it was a very special opportunity to team up with Dick's to support this cause," Miller told SB Nation. "There's also the Endless Ribbon on Facebook, that lets people show their support for the cause."
For some, the NFL's in-your-face marketing style doesn't mix well with the pink ribbons.
Please. Not pink for a month, NFL. A week, great. But a month?— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) October 2, 2012
I never really notice the pink ribbons.
Like Miller, cancer has been an outsized part of my life for a few years now. Talking to him about the loss of a loved one, I let veil of objectivity slip just a little. I just wanted some insight into how other people cope with that specter.
"Losing my grandma put a lot of perspective on things," Miller said. "It really hit home for me because I was really close to my grandmother. You think everybody's going to live for ever. When she got sick and passed away, it hurt, but it also helped me mature."
I never thought much about cancer, or death even, until 2008. My wife lost her mother in September of that year, three days before National Breast Cancer Awareness month, oddly enough. I never really felt like I got to know my mother-in-law all that well. And when our son was born - our first and last child - two months later, you realize just how much you still need parents, even in your 30s. That wouldn't be the last time my daily life would be one giant pink ribbon of inescapable cancer awareness.
Miller was the second pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. It was a Thursday. I remember it because I left my former day job at noon that day to get ready for what's the NFL blogger equivalent of Christmas. When I got home, my wife was there too, sitting in front of the computer and staring somewhere beyond its screen.
She had a mammogram. They found a lump.
The next day, Friday with the second and third rounds of the draft on tap, there was more testing to be done, an MRI and a biopsy. Results were due Wednesday.
I spent weekend alternating between the kind of furious writing required during the draft and embracing my wife and son.
Watching someone you love wither away to nothing is a pretty rotten experience. When you're dying of cancer the doctors still put you through the rigors of chemo. Watching someone die stays with you forever, wallpapered into your existence so that you see it every day.
I was damn glad that the draft was that weekend, and to this day can recount it in excruciating detail.
The Monday after the draft, in the middle of writing a recap, my wife got the news early and called to tell me it was just a pesky wad of tissue, the body's way of shoving another pink ribbon in our face.
A day, a week, a month, the NFL can wear pink ribbons for as long as they want, especially if it encourages one more person to get screened. I don't really notice the pink ribbons anymore; genetic testing and annual MRIs give my wife and I plenty of breast cancer awareness.
"Everybody has their own reason why they choose the path they do," Miller explained to me. "For me, I play football for my family, for the ones that are closest to my heart. Losing my grandma ... all she ever wanted me to do was to go to the league and be successful. Whenever I'm out there on the field, I think about her, I think about my little brother and my family and everybody close to me. I pretty much just go out there and take it one play at a time."