Raider Nation players reach out to breast cancer survivors
on October 10, 2014
Pink ribbons lined the entrance to the Oakland Raiders Training Facility in Alameda on Tuesday, reflecting baby pink into the pond outside. Inside, eight breast cancer patients and their caretakers were seated for a buffet dinner. Their hosts for the evening? Four Raiders players.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the Raiders hosted the dinner as a part of a National Football League-American Cancer Society partnership that includes a program called “Look Good, Feel Better,” which teaches female cancer patients beauty and make-up techniques designed to help them manage the appearance-related side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
It’s been an unfortunate public relations season for the NFL in recent weeks, but Tuesday’s event was simple and upbeat. It began with a dinner, a tour of the facilities and special gifts from the Raiders headquarters. According to the press release, the night would include “personal interaction and encouraging words from the Raiders.” The women would also receive a private make-up session after the tour.
“It means a lot to see these ladies excited,” said the Raiders’ Wide Receiver Rod Streater, whose own mother battled breast cancer for five years. “I just know that these women are strong. Last year, I scored my touchdown during the Breast Cancer Awareness game and I gave the ball to my mom.”
The organizers referred to the women as “survivors,” although all are still in various stages of cancer treatment, said Angie Carrillo, Senior Consultant for the American Cancer Society. To find women willing to attend, Carrillo reached out to local hospitals.
“We put out some information saying that if anyone is interested, we have an opportunity,” Carillo said. “We told each woman that there was a possibility there would be media and pictures and press, because you know, sometimes women come and they’re wearing scarves and they’re not feeling that great and they think, ‘Do we really want those pictures taken of us…like this?’”
During a photo shoot for the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery Campaign earlier that day, Carrillo said, volunteer actors were recruited to perform the role of patients. “They selected me to play a patient because I have short hair, “ Carrillo explained, “I put on the bandana and the hat to get into that mode, you know, and I didn’t feel very good. I didn’t curl my eyelashes or put on mascara and I felt…not so great. So I admire these women for coming and doing this when they’re feeling not so great, but knowing that the kind of attention they are getting tonight is going to make them feel better.”
Carrillo wasn’t joking about the involvement of a media presence. An official Raiders photographer snapped group photos while an official videographer interviewed each player. Other members of the press collected group pictures at the dinner tables. When the meal was finished, the women took turns posing for photos with the players, wide receiver Rod Streater, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, tight end Brian Leonhardt and linebacker Sio Moore, who smiled wide in their jerseys in front of the team’s logo.
Amanda, the most vocal of the group, wore a white headband with a flower atop her shaved head. Amid the photos, she asked the players to sign the back of her pink Raiders gift t-shirt. Other guests followed suit.
Each team in the NFL plays one Cancer Awareness game in October, said Mike Taylor, the Director of Public Affairs for the Raiders. Oakland will take on the San Diego Chargers at O.co Coliseum on Saturday and the game will feature players adorned in pink accessories. “Pink shoes, pink gloves, pink skull caps, pink coins, pink ribbons,” Taylor said.
That same apparel will be sold at the online NFL Auction, which features items like a pink “Dolphins game issued wristband” (current bid: $45). The resulting proceeds will benefit the American Cancer Society’s “CHANGE” program that focuses on annual mammograms for women in underserved communities.
Streater, who has a leg injury, won’t be playing at Sunday’s game, but he said he’ll be cheering from the sidelines. “I think my teammates will be playing with more passion, knowing that they’re out there in pink and playing for somebody else. Pink is cool, man!”
The photo and signature session was interrupted by a special announcement when Interim Head Coach Tony Sparano entered the room to audience applause.
“My wife lost her aunt to breast cancer, but her sister is a breast cancer survivor, so we are very passionate about this,” Sparano said. “We hope that you have a great time here today and we’re all praying for you.”
He asked the survivors in the room to stand so that the team could present a special gift.
“The first gift is tickets to our game this weekend against San Diego,” he said. “I hope you can all come and watch our first win of the year.” The audience laughed. The Raiders have lost their first four games this season (resulting in the firing of coach Dennis Allen and the interim hiring of Sparano).
Two female assistants in Raiders gear entered the room carrying trays of sea foam green boxes, wrapped neatly in little white bows. The audience’s eyes widened and the announcement was made: each survivor would receive their second gift, a Tiffany’s bracelet.
“Thank you, thank you,” one of the standing women said loudly. She was older than the other patients, with short greying hair and gold dangling earrings. Her nametag read “GG.” The Raiders players circled the room, handing one box to each woman from the silver tray.
Shortly after, Tony Gonzales, one of the official Raiders event photographers, could be heard over the crowd. “Can we do one final picture with Coach in it? Right in front of the ‘Commitment to Excellence’ sign? Same style, one with everyone and one with just the survivors please?”
The women and their guests gathered at the front of the room with the players and everyone. Smiles were displayed. Flashes went off.
After several shots, Amanda spoke up. “Can we do one flexing picture or something fun? To show we’re strong?”
The women and the players flexed their muscles in unison, and Gonzales fired his last shot.
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