In the end, I decided that I would, mostly because I know most of TOWIS’s readers are from the UK, and the awareness about Komen isn’t perhaps as high as it is in the US.
As we know by now, WWE announced last week they would be linking up with breast cancer charity The Susan G Komen Foundation for the month of October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“This partnership will reach millions of women and families with breast cancer education and awareness messages, while raising funds for Komen research and health outreach programs in the communities we serve,” said Dorothy Jones, Vice President of Marketing for Susan G Komen, in their joint press release.
She’s right – I spoke to the WWE press team this afternoon, who confirmed that five million women in the US alone watch WWE’s weekly programming. Add to that the other 144 countries they broadcast in, and that’s a lot of women who can be reached with education and awareness campaigns.
The questions I have, however, focus more on the ways in which WWE are partnering with Komen, and indeed about the operation of Komen as a whole.
Let’s start with the figurehead of this campaign. Of course, it’s the more-American-than-the-all-American John Cena, who’s wearing pink ring gear for the next month.
“Breast cancer is a devastating disease, and we’re committed to using WWE’s global resources to support Komen’s fight to end breast cancer forever,” went his quote in the press release. “I’ll be proud to wear pink in the ring to support this great cause.”
I have nothing against Cena the human being. He seems a great guy who really values the charity work he does, and I am sure he is genuine in wanting to support this campaign.
The shilling of pink Cena merch – branded RISE ABOVE CANCER – however, makes me rather uncomfortable. This endless cycle of Cena costume colouring – fortunate he hadn’t used pink before, right? And of course all profits from the sales are going to Komen – but that’s only around 30 per cent of the retail price, even according to WWE’s own figures. How much better it would be just to make a donation outright without getting anything in return. Or maybe offering an optional $1 addition to the ticket prices throughout October – like the theatre restoration levies in the UK.
And what do we actually get for our spending, apart from the merch? Well, we’re promised that Komen is a leader in research into a cure for breast cancer. Except they have been reducing the proportion of their funding they allocate to research; according to a recent Reuters report, research grants have not kept pace with the proportional growth of donations. Percentage-wise, according to Komen’s 2011 financial statement, 43 per cent of donations were spent on education, 18 per cent on fundraising and administration, 15 per cent on research awards and grants, 12 per cent on screening and 5 per cent on treatment.
All this is even before we consider the fatuous “RISE ABOVE CANCER” tagline on Cena’s new shirt – the only Superstar, remember, who is linked with this campaign. So by definition anyone who doesn’t like Cena (for example, his current nemesis CM Punk) is thus implicitly supporting cancer? If the entire WWE roster can be part of the anti-bullying be a STAR Alliance, and their morale-boosting troops visits, then surely they can align for this as well.
However, Komen does have a history of picking odd campaigns with their corporate partners, such as their link-up with KFC for “Buckets For The Cure” – despite us knowing that obesity and poor eating habits can be contributory factors towards cancer.
What makes me more uncomfortable is the covert – or even overt – political slant behind this. We know of Linda McMahon’s political ambitions; questions were asked last week about whether Cena criticising Punk’s promise of and failure to deliver “change” was an implicit criticism of President Obama. And we also know that Komen have been aligned with some right-wing causes in recent times – founder and former CEO Nancy Brinker is a Republican Party donor, for example.
Then there’s their decision that Planned Parenthood, which has received funding for the past five years for breast screening and mammograms, should no longer be eligible for any grants. In the US, Planned Parenthood is pretty much the only place where uninsured or underinsured women can get these kinds of services. After a public outcry, they reversed the decision about PP’s eligibility, although they made no guarantee about future funding. This all resulted in the resignation of policy director Karen Handel – a former Republican Party candidate, who had previously gone on record as saying that as a pro-lifer, she did not support the work of Planned Parenthood, who provide some abortion services. Some, unsurprisingly, believe that this pro-life agenda was behind the decision in the first place.
Fundamentally, and this will probably seem strange to UK readers, so used to getting our healthcare for free from the NHS, this charity purports to provide breast cancer-related medical services to women. (And maybe men too, although I couldn’t find any reference to this on their website. Yes, men can get breast cancer. Although you wouldn’t think it from the pinkified nature of breast cancer charities.) If there was no support for Komen’s work, they would go out of business.
And then one has to consider – Komen’s work is supported by corporations and the public because charities subsidising such crucial health interventions is still very much needed in the US. If the US medical system did not require insurance cover in order to pay for treatment, charities would not need to fund this kind of community outreach work and services.
And then we think about the Republican Party, coming up to election time and still battling against Obama’s plans for some degree of socialised health care – ie if you need medical treatment, you should get it, regardless of whether or not you can pay for it right there and then.
So WWE are giving Komen a huge publicity (and presumably funding) boost, after 12 months of significant controversy, reminding us (or rather Americans) that it is our own responsibility to donate to charities and thus deal with our healthcare, and John Cena says so too.
It’s this that makes me think that WWE’s decision to ally with Komen in this way, at this time, seems very questionable.