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In the span of only a couple of days, the NFL made two controversial decisions regarding the display of personal messages on game-day uniforms.
The developments started with Pittsburgh Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams, a well-known advocate of breast cancer awareness who lost his mother and four aunts to the disease. Williams has worked with the NFL this October --national Breast Cancer Awareness Month — and years past to help the league's effort to raise funds for the American Cancer Society.
The NFL's main form of support for breast cancer research comes from selling "Pink" merchandise. The league has reported raising around $8 million since 2009 when its "A Crucial Catch" campaign began. This is in addition to the publicity generated for the breast cancer prevention and research movement from hundreds of players, referees and coaches wearing pink apparel throughout the month.
Williams, though, wants to continue wearing his pink accessories beyond October.
Vice president of football operations Troy Vincent responded with a firm "no," citing the league's explicit uniform policy.
Fans and reporters alike have wondered why Williams cannot choose to support a cause that the league itself openly supports. What's at stake, supporters of the league’s decision argue, is a precedent whereby players can choose how and when they want to support certain causes.
Williams has responded with an alternative, electing to keep his hair dyed pink as he can find no rules objecting to that. He's also donating the money for 53 mammograms in memory of his mother who died at age 53.
But the controversy doesn't end there. The second uniform policy dispute also came by way of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In the team’s Week 5 Monday Night Football matchup with San Diego, defensive end Cam Heyward wrote "Iron Head"on his eye black. It was an act of remembrance for his father Craig "Ironhead" Heyward who died from brain cancer at the age of 39. In response, the NFL handed down a fine for breaking uniform policy.
Heyward responded in a conversation with ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, saying that he and Williams are only trying to remember those important in their lives.
"We're not trying to gain publicity by it," Heyward said. "I do it to honor somebody. DeAngelo does it to honor somebody. It shouldn't be taken to offense by anybody.”
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