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Awareness at a Cost

by Melissa Brunner

You've likely noted the predominance of pink at NFL games this month. Players are sporting pink shoelaces, pink towels, pink gloves and more to raise awareness of breast cancer. But another player's choice to wear bright green in support of another cause landed him in trouble.

Brandon Marshall of the Chicago Bears wore green cleats in his team's Thursday Oct. 10 contest versus the New York Giants in honor of Mental Health Awareness Week. Marshall has said he champions the cause because he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2011.

Unlike pink, however, the green is not an NFL-sanctioned departure from the norm. As such, the league last Tuesday informed Marshall he must pay a fine of $10,500 for his second offense in violating a rule that, according to the letter, states "players on the same team must wear shoes of the same dominant base color." For the Bears, that color is white.

Marshall expected the fine. He even told media beforehand that he would donate an equal amount to a charity involved with mental illness associated with breast cancer diagnosis.

"This fine is nothing compared to the conversation started & awareness raised," Marshall tweeted.

It all begs the question of whether the NFL needs to revisit how it makes exceptions to its uniform policy. Certainly, most people would agree there was no harm in Marshall wearing special shows to draw attention to a very worthy issue. Similarly, it would be tough to find someone who's not on board with the league's October pink movement.

But the rules do serve a legitimate purpose and it could be argued the league is simply trying not to slide too far down a slippery slope. For example, it's pretty clear why officials wouldn't want players from the same team wearing a dozen different styles and/or colors of jerseys - how confusing would that be? It also recently was revealed that, for six years, Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers has used clips attaching his visor to his helmet that bore an "Under Armor" logo. That's a no-no because the NFL is trying to protect the interests of its major sponsors, versus a player's personal endorsement deals. The league also has banned some teams from wearing throwback helmets, because the older styles do not meet current safety standards.

So why not simply let players apply to the league to wear a special accessory to highlight a cause near and dear to them, such as mental illness? Perhaps the league doesn't want to be put in a position where it must makes a judgment call about what causes might be considered legitimate. Breast cancer and mental health awareness? Pretty easy. Players wanting to make political statements? Muddier waters. Remember former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon and his Pete Rozelle headbands? Where would that fall?

It would be easy to say the NFL made a bad call in the Marshall scenario. Where should they go from here? Let's hope it's under further review.

Click here for a Chicago Tribute article about the Marshall fine.

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