Breast Cancer Awareness is personal for me, my mother is a survivor as well as three of her aunts. It is also very personal for San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula, whose mother is a FIVE TIME survivor. Sunday's game at Levi's will mark the 8th year that the 49ers have teamed up with national sorority ZTA and A Crucial Catch to raise breast cancer awareness.
BCA is the primary philanthropy of ZTA. Their partnership with the NFL began in 1999 with Washington, when collegiate and alumni members attended pregame festivities, reaching out to fans, passing out pink ribbons, raising awareness about breast cancer screenings and providing support for survivors. During the 17 years since it's humble beginnings, ZTA has passed out over 6 million ribbons at all of the 32 NFL venues.
This year members of the group will be at 29 of the 32 games in the first two weeks of October (each team's first home game of October). Each team has a slightly different approach to BCA. The 49ers-Packers game will have over 25 ZTA members passing out ribbons, sharing stories, and raising community awareness. Look for them in their pink t-shirts roaming around tailgating festivities as well as in the stadium during the game.
In 2009 the NFL launched A Crucial Catch which promotes early detection through screening in association with the American Cancer Society. Although there has been some debate as to how much of the proceeds from Pink profits have been going to ACS (see the 2013 breakdown acquired by ESPN's Darren Rovell that reported it was only 8 percent of Pink product sales), the NFL now reports that it donates 100% of all proceeds from the auction and from retail merchandise to ACS (The auction includes actual game used pink equipment that has been signed by the players and then put up for sale to raise money for ACS).
The website Jezebel has written a few articles regarding the legitimacy of the NFL's CC campaign, as well as the effectiveness of regular mammograms. The latter is an argument that is very difficult for me to accept after so many lives have been saved by early detection, cases that could have been much more serious or even fatal if not caught in those early stages.
Both the 49ers and ZTA not only focus on early detection, but also on the fighters and survivors. This week, several 49ers faithful women who have survived or are currently battling cancer, were invited to A Salute to Strength, which was an event that included a variety of spa services with a little football mixed in. These 30 ladies, including Tomsula's mother and his two aunts from Pittsburgh, are all somehow affiliated with the front office, players or coaches, and will be featured on the field at halftime.
Melissa Galvin Dobson was also a member of the 49ers family. The pregame show will include a tribute to the Gold Rush member and 49ers Total Access host who lost her battle with cancer at the young age of 34. She is survived by her husband and two young children.
Someone that is always on the field with the 49ers and is a breast cancer survivor is team photographer and one of my personal favorites, Kym Fortino. Kym was diagnosed in July of 2013 and needed chemotherapy soon thereafter. She told Alex Flanagan:
What I thought would derail my football season ended up breathing life into me. The owners, players and staff rallied around me and kept me lifted on game days. In fact, it was that support and energy that gave me the strength I needed during my treatment. With my chemo sessions scheduled on Monday, I was able to continue to work and shoot on Sunday, which was my lifeline...where I felt alive.
No matter how you slice it, ZTA, the 49ers and the NFL are raising awareness about BCA and encouraging early screening. They are also promoting community awareness and growing support groups for those fighting cancer and those who have survived it. You can't watch an NFL game in October without seeing pink and maybe even scheduling an overdue examination for yourself or a loved one. Every October I am reminded to schedule my own.