Players across the NFL will sport pink apparel this Sunday and throughout October as part of the NFL's partnership with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The pink gloves, pink sleeves, pink sweatbands and more were approved by the NFL in 2009. Pink cleats were added to the approved list later that year, but only after one star running back's inspiring quest to raise awareness for the disease.
DeAngelo Williams' mom, Sandra Hill, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. The diagnosis came in the middle of Williams' junior season at Memphis, so Hill waited to tell her son. Hill, whose three sisters died of breast cancer, first tried chemotherapy and then underwent a double mastectomy. She told Williams after the surgery.
"I was a little upset with her at first," Williams told the New York Times in 2009. "Then I looked at the big picture -- she's still here, she's still fighting. She went through it without a lot of people knowing. Her detecting it early was the reason she was able to pull through it."
In the summer of 2009, with his mother's cancer in remission, Williams heard about the NFL's plan to allow players to wear pink items during the month of October. He noticed that cleats were missing from the list of approved pink items, so he asked Panthers director of community relations Riley Fields if he thought the NFL would approve of pink cleats. Fields thought it was a good idea, and he petitioned the league.
"Nothing is stronger than wearing pink on the thing that keeps you going in the National Football League and that's your cleats," Williams said. "Because if you don't have a firm foot in the ground you're going to slip. I made a suggestion to the league, well to Riley (Fields), and Riley took it to the league and they OK'd it."
Williams and teammate Muhsin Muhammed, whose mother and mother-in-law are breast cancer survivors, first wore pink cleats on Oct. 11, 2009, during the Panthers' game against the Washington Redskins.
It didn't take long for Williams' honorable crusade to begin changing lives.
"Pink is not just a color," Williams told the Charlotte Observer last year. "It's a lifesaver. It's awareness. So when people see pink they want to ask questions and they want to follow up. I had a lady stop me and said just because of what I saw during the game, meaning the color, (she) was going to get examined. I asked her does it run in your family. She said no but just because I support that cause I'm going to go out and make sure I'm OK. I walked off like, whew, if we reach one, we reach millions. If we reach millions we're doing our job."