Cam Heyward Challenges The NFL On His Cancer-Awareness Eye Black

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Cameron Heyward will appeal the NFL’s fine for wearing a personal message on his eye black, and clarified his intentions for making the statement: the Steelers DE said the gesture wasn’t just for his late father, Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, who died of brain cancer, but for everyone.


Heyward, who’s facing an $11,576 fine for a repeat uniform violation, is appealing in hopes of having a meeting with the league and explaining his intentions with his customized eye black. Via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

“A lot of people are struggling with cancer and that’s what my message was,” Heyward said Monday afternoon. “It’s not just about me and my love for my father. There are a lot of people out there struggling. In a month when breast cancer is honored I think every type of cancer should be honored as well.”


“I’m not trying to step on anyone’s toes or upset the league office, but I want to continue to do it at least for this month,” Heyward said. “I would love to be able to [do it] this month and make an awareness for all types of cancer. I’m very sincere when I say I’m not trying to be someone who is a rebel against the cause or someone who is against everybody. I care about this league, but I also care about people who are struggling. I understand the struggles they go through. My dad went through that struggle, and I saw it every day.”

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that Heyward plans to mention former Bengals DT Devon Still in his appeal. While Still’s daughter Leah was fighting her pediatric cancer, he wore “LEAH STRONG” on his eye black during the season, and didn’t receive any fines. When asked, Still said he didn’t know it was against the rules, and added that he supports what Heyward’s doing.

To recap: an NFL player modified his uniform for a minor personal message involving his late father—a former NFL player—and cancer awareness, a cause that the NFL explicitly supports by celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. But because the NFL hasn’t thought of a way to market Heyward’s gesture the same way they marketed Leah Still or DeAngelo Williams, he’s getting a fine.

It can get exhausting reading so many words about stickers under someone’s eyes—and the inconsequential nature of the controversy is key to it being an NFL news story—but bear with me. Uniform policies are fine. If these rules are enforced in the military or Best Buy, that makes sense, though the Geek Squad probably wouldn’t ever be docked pay for supporting cancer awareness. Where it does not make sense to be so austere about a completely wholesome message is the NFL. This is a company where employees wear clothes decorated with angry cartoon animals, run into each other, and thrust their pelvises if they do well. It can’t honestly go to bat for propriety over a subtle, sincere gesture that no one would have ever noticed otherwise.

Photo: AP

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