DeAngelo Williams, William Gay, Cam Heyward

Pittsburgh Steelers teammates DeAngelo Williams and William Gay have been given an ultimatum by the NFL. Williams cannot wear pink -- his mother died of breast cancer in May 2014 -- and Gay cannot wear purple -- his mother was killed in a domestic violence incident -- on an NFL field or they will get fined. It violates the league's nine-page uniform policy.

Williams asked permission to wear pink shoes and pink wristbands, provided by the NFL, outside of October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The NFL denied his request. When the running back wore "Find the Cure" eye black on Oct. 25, he was fined $5,787. Gay, a cornerback, was fined a matching amount for wearing purple cleats in the same game.

Williams' daughters expressed silent protest Sunday.


Even kids understand the hypocrisy of the NFL. Yes, uniforms need some sort of universal code. If players are allowed too much freedom, they may send messages that run counter to the NFL brand. The NFL is a private enterprise, and if it wants to limit free speech in its workspace uniform, it can.

But the hypocrisy in the case of Williams and Gay is that their causes correspond with the NFL's apparent principles. "A Crucial Catch" is the NFL's partnership with the American Cancer Society to focus on the importance of regular breast cancer screenings. Throughout October, players wear pink game apparel, much of which is sold through NFL Auction, with proceeds benefiting the American Cancer Society's Community Health Advocates implementing Nationwide Grants of Empowerment and Equity (CHANGE) program.

In fact, the top of the NFL's "A Crucial Catch" page features a video with Williams. "Pink is not a color it's a culture to me," Williams says. "I wear the color pink on the field for the rest of my career." I would post the video here, but the NFL has disabled embedding of it from NFL.com or YouTube video (go figure).

Oh, thank you for tweeting it, DeAngelo.


On the domestic violence side, the aftermath of the Ray Rice video sparked an NFL effort to address the issue. Last season, Roger Goodell announced "long-term" NFL partnerships with The National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

It is time for the NFL to put its money where its mouth is, in terms of philanthropy. How many times do we see athletes and celebrities make appearances at charity events for publicity reasons and nothing else? Is the NFL for real when it comes to breast cancer awareness and domestic violence awareness, or are these positions pawns for good PR?

Show, don't tell.

DeAngelo Williams

The league is starved for role models, and here are two teammates devoting their lives not just to football, but two important and NFL-supported causes. This is a no-brainer.

One interesting quote on the "A Critical Catch" page: "Throughout October, NFL games will feature players, coaches, and referees wearing pink game apparel, as well as additional on-field and in-stadium branding."

See that word, branding? Why? Why does this have to be about branding? Let the players wear pink for a cause and not always think in terms of bills.

A third Steeler, defensive end Cam Heyward, was also fined this season for wearing "Iron" and "Head" on his eye black for two weeks. Early in October, Heyward put together two free NFL-permitted eye black pieces that read, "Tackle" and "Cancer" and did not get fined. When he created his own custom message -- his father, a former NFL running back nicknamed "Ironhead," passed away in 2006 after battling cancer -- Heyward was fined $17,363 over the two weeks. The NFL considered this a reduced fine as long as Heyward continues to honor his father "in other ways" off the field.

Think about that. Heyward's "punishment" is to continue the community service effort he wears on his sleeve (but he would like to wear on his eyes) to honor his family blood. How do NFL executives sit in their office and see that as a legitimate deal?


Keep in mind, these fines are new. Williams has worn breast cancer-specific eye black in past seasons. Gay wore purple cleats the past two Octobers. Last year, Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still wore "Leah Strong" eye black in honor of his daughter, Leah Still, who is battling pediatric cancer, and he did not get fined. These fines appear to be a sudden decision by the NFL, starting with Matthew Stafford's unexpected fine for wearing blue shoes.

William Gay

We get it. If a player wears a "Make America Great Again" hat on the sidelines, that is a problem because the NFL isn't in the business of endorsing political candidates. If a wide receiver pulls a Chad Johnson and pops out a poster after a touchdown that mocks the league, it is funny, but fine-worthy, as this is not what the league stands for. If an unsanctioned brand is worn during a game, that is a violation of league contracts and deserving of a fine.

But fighting cancer and domestic violence? These are apparently causes the NFL stands for. Apparently.

Nike and other uniform sponsors will understand, and frankly, they would probably love to get involved catering their jerseys for a good cause. The gear is already a hit on the NFL Shop page. If DeAngelo Williams wants to wear a pink sweatband to honor the woman who raised him and prevent others from succumbing to the same illness, there is certainly a mechanism Nike, the NFL and the Steelers can develop.

Cam Heyward

If William Gay wants to remember his mother, who was shot and killed by his stepfather when Gay was 7, with purple cleats, he is still wearing Steelers' black and gold with the rest of his gear. If Cam Heyward writes his father's nickname on his eye black, nothing will look different on television.

Rather than punishing players, why can't the NFL work to find a compromise for Williams, Gay, Heyward and others?

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-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.