NFL goes pink for breast cancer awareness

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

The moment his father called a family meeting, Ryan Denney knew something was wrong.

The Denney clan had gathered in their hometown of Thornton, Colo., for a happy occasion in March 2008. Brett Denney, a defensive end for Brigham Young University and little brother to Buffalo Bills defensive end Ryan Denney and Miami Dolphins long-snapper John Denney, was getting married.

The wedding was Saturday. The meeting was called for Sunday morning at their parents' home.

"I had a bad feeling," Ryan Denney said.

There, in the living room, patriarch Craig Denney delivered the sobering news to his children. Their mother had breast cancer. Two lumps had been found. Both were malignant.

"People were tearing up. It was quiet," Ryan Denney said recently in front of his stall in the Bills' locker room. "You need a minute to take it all in.

"Then our first reaction was 'What can we do to try and fight it? What are the options?' Fortunately, it was early enough that there was a good plan of attack."

Surgeons removed the lumps and some lymph nodes. She endured four months of radiation. But Sheri Denney survived.

"It's a touchy subject," Ryan Denney said, "but for us it's been very positive."

So often, breast cancer isn't discovered soon enough. Reminders to get mammograms are critical.

The NFL will use its influence -- and acquiesce some of its manliness -- to support National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in a highly visible way during this weekend's games.

As part of a campaign called "A Crucial Catch: Annual Screening Saves Lives," players will wear pink in an effort to drive home the importance of yearly mammograms for women 40 and older.

Players will wear pink cleats, pink wristbands, pink gloves, pink ball caps. Captain patches will be pink. So will the towels quarterbacks tuck into their waistbands. Coins used before the games will be pink. The padding around the goal posts will be pink.

"I'm more than comfortable with my manhood to wear pink shoes," Dolphins outside linebacker Joey Porter said. "I know we're going to auction them off and send the money from the proceeds of that. So whatever I can do to help in that situation is good. And I think it's a good cause."

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez is expected to wear pink cleats and throw spirals into receiver Jerricho Cotchery's pink gloves. New England Patriots running backs Laurence Maroney and Fred Taylor also have signed up for the pink gloves.

Others expected to wear pink cleats this weekend are quarterbacks Brett Favre and Drew Brees, receiver Chad Ochocinco and defensive end Osi Umenyiora.

"I think it's a great statement by the league and by the players and all of us that are putting our support behind something that hopefully can be better for everybody going forward," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.

"I don't think I'll be in a pink hoodie, though, no."

Bills safety Donte Whitner won't be on the field Sunday because of a thumb injury, but he has clamped onto a pink mouthpiece since training camp. He does so to honor his grandmother, Rosetta, who died from lung cancer in March.

NBCAM.org, the Web site for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, states an estimated 40,170 women will die from breast cancer this year, but there are about 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S.

The objective of "A Critical Catch" is to raise awareness and urge regular checkups. The flashes of pink amid all the testosterone-clouded action certainly will stand out.

"The NFL is a national stage," Ryan Denney said. "A lot of people will tune into the game, mostly men. But maybe those are the guys that need to be made aware if they have a wife, a mother, a loved one that they can ask 'Hey, mom, have you been checked out lately?' "

NBCAM.org cites two of the most common reasons women don't get checked are because their doctors don't mention it or because it simply never dawned on them.

Sheri Denney learned she had cancer because a friend badgered her into going along to a mammogram screening.

The fear that cancer might be discovered often causes women to procrastinate on getting a mammogram or to avoid one completely.

"That was one of the reasons my mom was hesitant to go get tested: The only thing you're going to find out is that you have a problem," Ryan Denney said. "So if you don't get tested, you don't have a problem.

"You hate to think that in six months or two years down the road she gets sick and goes in to the hospital. Then it's maybe too late."