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Pride & Disbelief

Pride. There are many things I am proud of and feel pride in. This week I’m highlighting one specific thing which has been with me since the day I was born, possibly even before that … being a diehard Chicago Cubs fan.

Sure our season ended sooner than I would have wanted. But we also made it further than a lot of people thought this year. Plus this means that next year should be another fun one with a good, young, talented core of guys on the heels of the buzz we created this year.

Sure every year I’ve ever known (along every one both with my parents and grandparents have known) seems to end with heartbreak even when we may have a hot start to the season or make the playoffs. But true fans stick it out and find hope even when there seems to be none left. Plus we have a chance to possibly boast some awards this year … Rookie of the Year (Kris Bryant), Manager of the Year (Joe Maddon) and NL Cy Young Winner (Jake Arrieta).

Sure it was great to see us dominate the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals (the teams with the 2 best records in all of baseball ahead of the Cubs). But it was tough to watch us get swept by the hottest team in baseball, the New York Mets, in the NLCS. Plus this means that we’ll see a team win the World Series who hasn’t won in almost 30 years … the Kansas City Royals won it in 1985 with the New York Mets winning it in 1986, the last time for either team.

Sure the bandwagon got pretty crowded and it has gotten lighter and smaller now. But, as the old saying goes, next year is our year! Plus I think this time they really mean it.

So may the best team win although I don’t think I’ll be staying up for any more 1:00am game starts unless it goes to a Game 7.

Disbelief. This feeling has nothing to do with the Cubs, quite the opposite actually as this has nothing to do with baseball. Instead I’m switching gears to the NFL and while I could again mention a bunch of examples, I’m going to focus on one them … the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve come across 2 specific stories which made me both sad and mad at the same time. First a little background though before I get into the stories. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While this is an issue that should be talked about and thought about every day as opposed to one month out of the year, and is for anyone who has been directly or indirectly affected by it, I guess a month is better than nothing at all.

Now the NFL, for the month of October, seemingly promotes Breast Cancer Awareness by having all the players, coaches, refs, etc wear accessories that are pink such as towels, wristbands, mouthguards, game balls, coins and other paraphernalia. They also have special hats, shirts and jerseys which have the team logo and numbers outlined in pink. In fact they have an entire section of their NFL Store which sells this special gear.

The NFL then auctions off a lot of these items with proceeds benefiting the American Cancer Society’s Community Health Advocates implementing Nationwide Grants for Empowerment and Equity (CHANGE) program. On October 13, grant-funded community health system partners are teamed up with the American Cancer Society and the NFL to launch its second nationwide breast cancer event, A Crucial Catch Day, to provide breast cancer education and free or low-cost screenings within underserved communities.

2 Pittsburgh Steelers players this year have taken this another step, one for breast cancer and the other for a personal remembrance of how cancer affected his life. The first one is Cam Heyward, a defensive lineman, whose father also played in the NFL back in the day. Craig “Ironhead” Heyward was a fullback who played on quite a few different NFL teams and was a dominating force in college as well at the University of Pittsburgh.

I mean he didn’t get the nickname ‘Ironhead’ for no reason, although there are 2 tales of the true meaning. He was a beast on the field with massive strength and also had a huge head (size 8 3/4). The other story is that when he would lower his head into an oncoming defender and hit him in the stomach it used to hurt them so much that they said he literally had a head made of iron.

ironhead

Well sadly in 2006, at the age of 39, ‘Ironhead’ passed away after an on and off battle with bone cancer. In 1998 he had a malignant bone tumor which was pressing on his optic nerve and blurred his vision which is how he originally caught it. After undergoing a couple of surgeries and quite a bit of treatment he was pronounced cancer-free. In 2005 the tumor came back and he passed away less than a year later.

This month, to honor his late father Cam Heyward, wore the words ‘Iron’ and ‘Head’ on his eye black during cancer prevention month and to raise awareness. The NFL responded by fining him $5,787 since it was a violation of their uniform standards. The next week he did it again, the fine rose to $11,576 for a second-time offense.

Some say that for the money he makes it’s a small price to pay for not only paying tribute to his late father but also raising awareness but shouldn’t the NFL possibly rethink their stance on something that has a positive message even if it goes against their standards?Now before you get too outraged there is a semi-happy ending to this story. Heyward appealed the fines and both sides came to an agreement of sorts. Heyward’s fines would be significantly lowered if he does not violate the uniform rules again this weekend. He can honor his dad in other ways … Heyward not only plans to wear his dad’s name on a shirt under his jersey but also has been doing charitable work for eyeblack.com.

heyward

The next case is Deangelo Williams, the Steelers backup running back. Last season he dyed the ends of his dreadlocks pink to honor his late mother, Sandra, who battled breast cancer from 2010 until she passed away in 2014. Sadly he’s had 4 aunts afflicted with the disease as well. This season he’s kept the pink-tipped dreadlocks and also has the desire to not only wear the pink clothing the NFL allows during the month of October but throughout the year.

Once again the NFL has stepped in and said that if he does so he’ll be paying the fines associated with breaking their rules. So instead of paying fines to the NFL he has decided to do something much better with his money. To honor his mother’s age when she passed he will be paying for 53 mammograms between his current NFL city (Pittsburgh) and the city he spent the majority of his career before this (Charlotte). While most health insurance plans will cover mammograms, he will be helping those who do not have health insurance where it can average about $190 so just over $10,000 out of his own pocket. However he is also selling pink t-shirts with the slogan ‘Pittsburgh is stronger than cancer’ to raise funds for mammograms as well.

The NFL is estimated to collect almost $4 million per year in player fines which is then donated to the NFL Player Care Foundation and the Gene Upshaw Player Assistance Trust. However there have also been a few articles recently speaking specifically to the money and donations the NFL makes from their October pink campaign which is quite crazy.

Now the American Cancer Society CHANGE program (mentioned earlier) is all about awareness, education, and screenings for women over 40. That’s great except that this still doesn’t do enough to highlight the research factor that is needed to figure out a cure for cancer. And this is where the NFL’s funds come in since they only go towards the CHANGE program.

Their website says that 100% of their profits from the sale of these pink items go to the ACS but this has never been substantiated. Many companies will plainly say that a certain % will go to a cause or that they’re going to raise a certain amount of $ for a cause and once they hit that goal they will donate. But that does not mean if you buy a $100 shoe from NFLShop.com, ACS gets $100. If you’re buying any pink products from the official shop, the wholesaler, distributor, and retailer give 0 percent of their shares to ACS. The only portion that goes to the society is the NFL’s royalty percentage from wholesale sales.

They say that on average over the last 6 years given $1.1 million/year to the ACS. This sounds great but again doesn’t go to any actual research in the cure for cancer and is a drop in the bucket when you learn that last year the NFL was estimated to make a whopping $10 billion (with a B) in revenues. So less than .01% of this is going to the cause.

So as not to end on a super depressing note let’s finish on a happy story. Now oddly enough this also has a link the Chicago Cubs but it wasn’t planned, it just fit perfectly with the theme. Andy Lane had one of the best jobs in baseball, he was a former bullpen catcher. Now Andy recently had a son who was born with a rare heart disease in 2014, just over 1 year ago in early October.

The MLB pools their fines from everything from uniform violations to disciplinary actions into a fund called the Baseball Assistance Team or BAT which provides financial relief former players, staff and personnel in times of need. The Lane’s learned of the cardiac condition during pre-natal testing in addition to the absence of a pulmonary valve. They decided to have the child even though they were advised to consider terminating the pregnancy since it was caught so early.

After Jackson was born he spent 10 weeks in the hospital undergoing operations, procedures, treatments, etc but was finally strong enough to come home just before the holidays in 2014. The BAT program made it possible for the Lane’s to get the best medical treatment, give their child a fighting chance, become an ambassador for the program and see how well it can work when funds are not only properly allocated and used but how a bad situation (say a player getting fined for throwing helmet at another player) can be turned into a good situation (like saving a life).

And finally one quick note in hockey. Last night was an early season rematch of the Stanley Cup teams last year. Like the outcome of the Stanley Cup, the Chicago Blackhawks were victorious over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The game play was not really playoff worthy but it was only the 8th game of the season so there’s a long way to go to hone those skills and really gel as a team. The first 3 periods were scoreless on both sides so the teams headed to the new overtime format with 3-3 play to speed things up and provide more scoring chances. Well 17 seconds into the OT period the Hawks captain, Jonathan Toews, scored his first goal of the year on a sick deke between 2 Lightning defenders and putting in his own rebound. A good feeling on a season that has started quite pedestrian but there is a long way to go.

– Beard

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