Everything in the O’Connell Center was pink on Friday night.
Pink leotards. Pink table cloths. A pink scoreboard. And, of course, pink-clad people. All in the name of raising awareness for breast cancer and its survivors.
Feleipe Franks was a lucky one.
The meet is part of an SEC initiative — every team in the conference participates in a “pink” meet once a year, and they’ve been doing so for 12 years now. It’s a big draw for the Gators, who noted in their pre-meet press release that three of the program’s eight largest crowds ever were courtesy of its Link to Pink meet. Yet as I sat on the sideline waiting for the meet to start, I couldn’t help but think about how superficial it all felt.
Were the 3,500 pink T-Shirts given to fans going to cure anyone? Were the free pink posters going to donate money? Were the pink leotards going to inspire people watching at home to go research breast cancer?
This superficial feeling isn’t something I’ve only felt about gymnastics. In light of the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day, many teams showed support for the affected students by wearing jersey patches or helmet stickers with an Eagle on them. I ask again, what are those stickers actually doing aside from making the wearers feel better about themselves?
But that’s a little more understandable. Even though the stickers don’t do anything, those wearing them probably do feel genuine empathy for the students who had to endure that nightmare. And in the post-trauma hysteria, there’s nothing wrong with embracing that empathy.
Heck, even Florida’s Overwatch League team, the Florida Mayhem — which is composed of a group of Swedish guys — wore Eagle patches on their jerseys and pointed at them when they walked in. Maybe that meant something to an Overwatch fan at the school. Maybe it helped him/her cope.
But at the gymnastics meet, it just felt like many of the athletes were forced to compete “for a cause” that many of them — though certainly not all — know little or nothing about.
It was just like the NFL’s annual breast cancer awareness month, which I can say from personal experience always felt more like a fashion statement than a plan of action. When I was in middle school watching players waving their pink towels and securing catches with their pink gloves, I ordered a pink mouthpiece to wear on my flag football team.
And I didn’t donate a cent to breast cancer research.
That comparison jogged through my head as the teams prepared to start Friday’s meet. But instead of emerging from the tunnel like they usually do, a group of breast cancer survivors long enough to wrap the competition floor emerged first. The women in that group were black, white and everything in between. One wore a hijab. Another wore a pink-trimmed blouse rather than the complimentary T-Shirt. And all of them, for the whole trip around the stage, received a thunderous standing ovation from the crowd.
I realized in that moment that it didn’t matter how superficial this was for me or even for the athletes. If even one of those women felt better or more empowered because of that demonstration — because of the Florida gymnasts giving all of them high fives on their way to introductions, then who cares what the meet is actually doing for breast cancer in general? It’s doing plenty for the breast cancer survivors in attendance.
The same applies to the shooting tributes. If one person feels better because of those gestures, then those gestures are a success. Granted, it’s always good to explore ways to improve them. UF could perhaps look into heavy promotion of donations to breast cancer research at the annual meet, or athletes could wear GoFundMe information for those affected by tragedy.
Even if not, such events and tributes shouldn’t be thought of as superficial. If they do anything to comfort those they’re trying to represent, they’re doing enough.
Even if they could be doing more.