Skip to content

DeAngelo Williams Paints the NFL Into a Pink Corner

As you’ve probably heard by now, Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams, whose mother and aunts died from breast cancer, wanted to keep wearing pink accessories even after Pinktober ended but was told by the league that he can’t because it would violate the league’s uniform policy.

The NFL is taking a lot of abuse for this one (and they brought it on themselves, as I’ll get to in a sec), but I think they made the right call here. Even if your heart is in the right place and you’re advocating for a good cause, that shouldn’t mean you automatically get to turn your uniform into a season-long soapbox. If they let Williams do it, they’d be priming the pump for other players to start wearing cause-specific accessories. The resulting clusterfuck of advocacy would quickly become unwatchable. I don’t blame Williams for asking — on the contrary, I applaud his intentions and feel for the loss of his family members — but the answer had to be no.

Still, the optics here make the NFL look bad, and they have nobody but themselves to blame for that. They’re the ones who’ve brought cause-based gear to the fore with Pinktober and G.I. Joevember, and they’re the ones who’ve encouraged players to wear as many pink accessories as possible. So they shouldn’t be surprised when a player wants to take things a bit further. If they hadn’t dabbled with uniform soapboxing to begin with — which they shouldn’t have — they wouldn’t be dealing with this latest PR snafu now.

Meanwhile, here’s something interesting from reader David Dyte: Deadspin’s take on this story included some quotes from the NFL’s equipment rules, which included some stipulations I wasn’t aware of (emphasis mine):

[P]layers are prohibited from wearing, displaying, or otherwise conveying personal messages either in writing or illustration, unless such message has been approved in advance by the League office. Items to celebrate anniversaries or memorable events, or to honor or commemorate individuals, such as helmet decals, and arm bands and jersey patches on players’ uniforms, are prohibited unless approved in advance by the League office. All such items must relate to team or League events or personages. The League will not grant permission for any club or player to wear, display, or otherwise convey messages, through helmet decals, arm bands, jersey patches, or other items affixed to game uniforms or equipment, which relate to political activities or causes, other non-football events, causes or campaigns, or charitable causes or campaigns. Further, such armbands and jersey patches must be modest in size, tasteful, noncommercial, and non-controversial; must not be worn for more than one football season; and if approved for use by a specific team, must not be worn by players on other teams in the League.

The sections that I italicized all seem to have been violated in the fairly recent past. For example:

“All such [patches or decals] must relate to team or League events or personages ”¦ [and cannot be for] non-football events”: This policy has been violated several times, such as when teams wore memorial decals after the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012, or when the Broncos wore decals for victims of the 2012 Aurora shootings and Colorado wildfires, among other examples.

“[Patches or decals] must not be worn for more than one football season”: Someone must not have told the Lions (who are currently wearing their William Ford memorial patch for the second consecutive season) or the Bears, Chiefs, or Raiders (who have perma-morials for George Halas, Lamar Hunt, and Al Davis, respectively).

“[Patches or decals for a specific team] must not be worn by players on other teams in the League”: After Washington safety Sean Taylor died in 2007, players throughout the league — not just on Washington — wore “21” decals.

My point here is not to play “gotcha.” Rather, it’s just to point out the existence of these supposedly official policies, which I hadn’t been aware of. Seems like they’re not enforced all that stringently.

•  •  •  •  •

T-Shirt Club reminder: In case you missed it yesterday, the Uni Watch T-Shirt Club’s latest offering — the amazing tequila sunrise design — is now available for ordering. Judging by the very robust first day’s sales, this one will likely be our No. 2 seller of the year, and might even challenge April’s shirt (the Jackie Robinson design) for the top spot. Glad you folks seem to like this one as much as I do.

As I explained a few weeks back, the design and production issues on this one were fairly complex, so we decided to have some samples made — so much better than just having a mock-up. Check it out (click to enlarge):

Not bad, right? Additional details here, or you can just order it here.

•  •  •  •  •

Design an ambulance

Design contest reminder: In case you missed it over the weekend, Phil announced a new design contest to repaint an old ambulance and tranform it into a Detroit Lions tailgating vehicle. It’s a great challenge, and there will be prizes for the winners. Get the full story here.

• • • • •

The Ticker
By Paul

Baseball News: Pretty cool series of illustrations of what fans wore to Wrigley the other night. ”¦ In the wake of two Kansas City firefighters being killed on the job earlier this week, the Royals will wear KCFD BP caps prior to today’s ALDS rubber game.

NFL News: The Eagles will go mono-black next Monday night. ”¦ The Packers’ new throwbacks will make their on-field debut this Sunday. ”¦ The Vikings have had the same stitcher for 46 years! Here’s a video segment on her (from Jack Gambro). ”¦ Taylor Wynn says he’s never seen this Falcons special teams logo before, and neither have I. Additional info in this discussion thread.

College and High School Football News: Here’s a gallery of western Massachusetts high school football helmets (thanks, Phil). ”¦ New homecoming uniforms for Georgia Southern. ”¦ Someone at a Jeb Bush campaign event had a very SEC-style Jeb sign (good one from Tim Cross). ”¦ Researchers at Simon Fraser University in Canada have come up with a new anti-concussion innovation. ”¦ New helmet this week for Arkansas State. ”¦ More info on Ohio State’s BFBS uniforms. Spoiler alert: The whole thing was Nike’s idea. Stunner. Still more info here (thanks, Phil).

NBA News: Some sort of new uni apparently in the works for the Spurs. ”¦ We’ve known for nearly three months now — since that big leak-o-rama in late July — that the Cavs will have a sleeved BFBS alt this season. Now Conrad Burry has provided a clearer mock-up.

College Hoops News: New uniforms for Fordham (from Pat Costello). ”¦ If you’re a fan of those meaningless slogans that some teams put on the inner collar where nobody can see them, then you’ll love the new UVA uniforms (from Thomas R.).

Soccer News: Excellent infographic comparing time/motion dynamics in soccer to other sports. Recommended. ”¦ Here’s a site that has takes on MLS jerseys inspired by Latino players on certain teams. “Interesting concept, mostly awful results,” says Markus Kamp. ”¦ There’s a report that the U.S. men’s national team will be going BFBS in 2016 (thanks, Phil). ”¦ Customized cleats for Romelu Lukaku of Belgium. ”¦ New away jerseys for Denmark and Russia.

Grab Bag: A 1905 New Zealand All Blacks jersey has set the record for the highest auction price ever paid for a rugby jersey. ”¦ Chance Michaels was on a New York City subway and spotted a cop whose badge and collar insignia appeared to have been spray-painted pink. ”¦ Neckwear for dummies: Marty Hick (who, to be clear, is no dummy) has a tie that actually has instructions regarding which color it should be worn with. Never seen that before. ”¦ Also from Marty: Check out the awesome sweater that Billy the Kid wore while playing croquet. ”¦ @Chesterfield359 recently wore the Uni Watch T-Shirt Club’s July/”Pandering” design onstage with his band. By nice coincidence, that club is just a few blocks from my house. ”¦ If you’re a guy, you’re all too familiar with the need to occasionally make “an adjustment” just south of the waistline. Now an undergarment company claims to have come up with a product line that addresses that problem. Personally, I’m skeptical — just as nobody will ever make shaving any less annoying or irritating, nobody will ever solve the eternal problem of the adjustment (blame Tommy Turner). ”¦ Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a huge fan of tomboys. Most of my girlfriends have been tomboys, many of my female friends are tomboys, and I’ve had crushes on more tomboys than I can count (many of whom turned out to be gay, which is an occupational hazard if you have a thing for tomboys). So it’s disappointing to hear that tomboyism, and even the term “tomboy,” is apparently no longer in vogue. Then again, that’s a New York Times style/fashion piece, which means it’s probably wrong. ”¦ Navy Adm. John Richardson had a meeting with several hundred sailors the other day, during which he discussed, among other things, flame-resistant uniforms.

Comments (48)

    “Someone must not have told they Lions”
    “spotted a cop whose bad and collar insignia”
    “has instructions which which color it should be worn with”

    As far as the NFL’s uniform rules, I think some of them were a reaction to link in the 1985 postseason.

    The Arky State helmets were indecipherable on TV, but then again the lighting at Ladd-Peeples isn’t great for TV broadcasts either.

    I could be wrong, but I believe that sleeved Cavs jersey is actually navy blue. Chris Creamer tweeted a pic of it last night. Still ugly, but (hopefully) not black.

    I have read the word “optics” more in the past week on this site than I have in the past decade everywhere else.

    Is it a “new” word?

    At least the league is being somewhat consistent in not allowing players to express support for individual causes. Brandon Marshall was fined for trying to support mental health awareness in 2013.

    I guess it makes sense for it to be black since they already have a navy uniform. Guess I was hoping against hope…

    R: The “tomboy” issue…It makes me wonder if someone at the NYT is just trying to get people to stop using the term cause they hate it, so they say it’s not “in vogue”

    as a dad of 2 and 4 year old girl. It irks me when people refer to my daughter as a “tomboy” because she’s taller and more athletic than most of the girls her age. especially when just seeing her in a playground type setting. it’s a snap judgement that has no real basis because even though she can be rough and tumble with the boys, she still likes tea parties, wearing pink and so on..

    Couldnt Williams be able to put something on his jersey like polamalu had above his name on the back? It was hidden by his long hair but on the few ovations he wore his hair up it was clearly visible, but I think I remember you saying since it was rare it was okay by the league

    And while we’re at it, Williams could also put something in his jockstrap, or inside his helmet, or in his socks, or, or, or……

    The whole point is that he WANTS to do something VISIBLE.

    What happened to just following the dress code? Has this dress code changed drastically this year? This might seem heartless, but they have to have a dress code or stuff like this will make the league seem like a pick-up game of mismatched everything. Surely if he truly wants to honor and raise awareness, then he could do more volunteering, donating, and other media like commercials?

    Maybe the NFL should allow D. Williams to the pink ribbon sticker on his helmet all season long?

    the “funny” thing of the Williams issue is he’s one of the people that pushed the NFL to get into wearing pink on the field

    The word optics isn’t new it’s just being used lately to describe how certain events look to the public. I too have heard the word a lot over the past few months. It’s one of those annoying phrases that media types use rather than say what something actually means. Here’s a short list of my most annoying.
    1. “Plate the run”
    2. ” Walk off”
    3. “Optics”
    4. “Take it to the house”
    5. “Moving forward”
    6. “With all due respect”

    Rich Eisen was talking about some situation and he was more or less yelling about it and saying how silly the situation was because, “optics.” Since then, I’ve heard “optics” so many times, it’s become very annoying.

    Writing “because” and then reducing the entire phrase that follows into a single word (“because, optics”) is also one of those fads that drives people nuts.

    (Sorry, man. Didn’t mean to pick on you.)

    Several of those are just examples of people using synonyms to keep language lively. I get the objections to “walk off,” but it’s a perfectly useful term that means a specific thing that is widely understood. I’d put “optics” in a different class of euphemisms; words that don’t have value or meaning unto themselves, but are used to conceal or distort true meaning. “Optics” is almost meta, to use another over-bandied term: In the Frankfurterean definition of “bullshit,” the word “optics” is a bullshit word about another kind of bullshit.

    The purest expression of “optics” would be a use along the lines of, “He did nothing wrong, but the optics were terrible.” It’s a word that permits the speaker to repeat speculation or opinion, often in contradiction to facts, rather than wrestling with substance and facts.

    My list of most-annoying contemporary phrases would start with

    “Look, …”

    The last one in particular, if you hear a politician or a journalist who covers politics start a sentence with, “Look, …” there is a very high chance that what follows will either be a dodge, an opinion unencumbered by facts and logic, or an outright lie.

    Nothing wrong with the word itself; it’s a perfectly cromulent word.

    There’s no other single word to describe something officially acceptable but bearing the appearance of impropriety or inappropriateness.

    But I agree it’s become a lazy (and therefore overused) buzzword.

    Walk off is horrible and makes no sense. If it is used to describe the pitcher walking off after giving up the hit as Dennis Eckersley contends when he made up the term, then how is it different than the end of every other half inning when a pitcher walks off the field? “Game-Ending” should be the adjective that is used in every instance that “walk-off” is currently used. It’s much clearer, more accurate and is only one additional syllable.

    Agreed, but I’d like to see some signs of talons gripping the football before I’d consider it as a full team logo.

    It’s much too detailed, even for something as large as a helmet logo, and it really only works on black, which is a bit limiting for an NFL team.

    Teams all the time get permission to add memorial patches to uniforms or decals to helmets for a season. If Williams wanted to wear something pink all year, he should have went to the Steelers first, asked them if something could be added (perhaps a small ribbon decal to the back of the helmet) which then they’d have to go to the NFL for permission… of course it would have to be on ALL the player’s helmets, but whatever, most probably wouldn’t care, I mean the Bengals look like pimps and the Browns look like crap and the players wear their uniforms.

    It would have been interesting to see the NFL’s reaction if a team were to ask to wear a decal or patch for a year for a “cause” because I see no difference from that and a decal for a late owner or player.

    Regarding the slogans inside the UVA hoop jerseys, it strikes me as particularly ironic to point out how humble they think they are. Isn’t that the job for someone else?

    I always found it off putting that Peyton Manning wanted to wear black shoes after Johnny Unitas died as a tribute but the NFL said no. It wouldn’t look right. Yet all this pink bullshit they sell is ok? I think if they could have found a way to corner the market in black shoes they would have been fine with it.

    “I always found it off putting that Peyton Manning wanted to wear black shoes after Johnny Unitas died as a tribute but the NFL said no.”


    And he didn’t wear them. He should have, but (and I’m no fan of Manning), but he was an upstanding guy and should have just gone ahead and worn them anyway and paid the fine. Fuckin’ NFL (and then the Colts went back to black shoes a few years later anyway…)

    Paul and Bryan from Teespring,

    Just ordered a shirt. Uni Watch has been mandatory “free” reading for me for years now and although I realize this isn’t a money-making venture, I feel obligated to finally spend some scratch and partake in the t-shirt club. Plus, I just moved to Houston so if ever there was a perfect month to jump in, this is it. Awesome design and I can’t wait to wear it.

    Thanks for all the work on this design and thanks for Uni Watch.


    FYI Steelers DE Cam heyward was fined for having ‘iron head’ on his eye black in tribute for his father Craig ‘Iron head’ heyward who passed away of cancer in 2006….

    You can honor your father for dying of cancer… But you can honor your mother, but our pink stuff… Oh and you can buy our pink stuff all year round, but will only see it work for 4 weeks…

    It seems heavy handed, but a rule is a rule, and you can’t pick and choose what constitutes proper breaking of them unless you want a serious problem on your hands. Cam has every right to honor Iron Head on his shoe, undergarments, shoulder pads, etc., just not on his eye black where everyone is going to see it a half dozen times during the broadcast.

    ” The resulting clusterfuck of advocacy would quickly become unwatchable.”

    It already is…

    A recent lacrosse tournament showcase outfitted its teams in Tequila Sunrise jerseys.

    Yep, lacrosse. The manufacturer is OT Sports, which has outfitted numerous minor-league baseball teams with throwbacks the last several years.


    As someone who lost my mother to breast cancer at 16, the NFL exploitation of the cause has long driven me postal. I get what drives the appeal to the pink campaigns… why wouldn’t we all want to do something to make a positive out of a disease that affects so many and so many we know? Pink efforts feel fun and strong and proactive.

    I fell into this trap early in the aftermath of my mother. I held an annual fundraiser in her honor, with pink to the max. And raised and donated significant amounts of money. I was appalled when I started to follow the money trail. The National Breast Cancer Foundation is easily the worst offender here. This organization is absolutely capitalizing on this disease. They use a high profile disease to drive a high income business for their executives while contributing the minimum they can legally get away with to the cause while still qualifying as a charity. I felt so ashamed to have sent the money of people who supported me and my cause to these profiteers.

    Upon further investigation, American Cancer Society is better but not much. And Komen is the best of the bunch with respect to what portion of money goes to the actual cause… but still not immune to the corporate salary structure. But at least I believe that Komen as an organization exists to try to address this problem. NBCF on the other hand absolutely exists primarily to make a handful of people wealthy while the bare minimum trickles down to the cause.

    So, what’s the NFL’s angle here? Hard to say. We have all seen the critical articles outlining the cash flow on this. The most recent Huffington Post piece demonstrated that 3.5% of money raised by the Pinktober assault goes to the ACS, and remember that contribution will be diluted even further by ACS salaries and overhead.

    The NFL has defended itself saying that it doesn’t see a profit. That whatever money is left in its coffers at the end is reinvested in the campaign. And the numbers breakdown that the majority of this money is captured by merch production companies and vendors.

    Still many questions for the NFL remain.

    1) Isn’t the vendor profiting the most from this initiative? Hint: Yes, it is. Next in line, the individual teams.

    2) As perhaps the most corporately savvy sports entity in history, are we expected to believe that if the goal of this campaign were actually to make money for Breast Cancer research, screening, treatment etc., that the NFL couldn’t develop a model with better than 3.5% yield for the cause????? Hint: Please

    3) Aren’t there other important diseases? The truth is the disproportional shunting of money to breast cancer is a bit of a laughing matter in the medical community. I am not diminishing the importance of vigilance on breast cancer, the disease that took my mom, and threatens all of the women in my life including my sisters and daughters… but we have bigger fish to fry right now, both cancerous and benign diseases.

    And while it is not the NFL’s responsibility to eradicate world disease, I do not think it is a preferential interest in breast cancer vs. pancreatic cancer or diabetes or obesity or mental illness or domestic abuse or AIDS or lung cancer (the number 1 killer cancer killing Americans) or alcoholism or gambling addiction etc. etc. etc.

    What makes breast cancer the NFL’s pet project is that it is easily the most marketable and most profitable. And while the “NFL” doesn’t profit per se, its vendors like and all 32 teams, and its corporate partners do. Pure profiteering. And if a more marketable “cause” should emerge, Pinktober will evolve in a hurry.

    It is devastating to me that they have gotten away with this ruse for so long. You want to believe that somewhere in the club of owners, there is a decent person who says no. Who refuses the cashflow or who publicly declares they are donating their cut as well to the cause… to create awareness and put pressure on the others to do the same. But, this is pure naivete. Cash is king. And the well-meaning but incredibly gullible fans that buy into this scam year after year will continue to be exploited to maximum effect.


    My condolences for your loss, Peter, and my thanks for sharing your experience and knowledge of the landscape. Powerful stuff.

    I will say that the “ugly” MLS hispanic-inspired kits feel more authentic and come from a real tribute than some of the other tributes that come down the pipe. Simply putting Los or El in front of a name, feels like pandering. At least those kits, I could be convinced into getting one. Partial to the Orlando and LA kits.

    I’ve been disappointed and saddened by the pink ribbon movement once you see the reality of fund raising. The phrase “proceeds go to” is now code for “far less money than you can imagine go to”.

    If a team DARED to offer pink jerseys/kits and said “all profits go to”, I would have a collection of pink kits. Knowing that less than 10% of my purchase goes to the charity its benefiting reeks of bad faith.

Comments are closed.