The Saga of Cam Heyward, DeAngelo Williams, and the NFL Rulebook


The Steelers have already fallen victim twice this month to the atrocity of a disciplinary code known as the uniform policy. NFL VP of football operations, Troy Vincent, refused Steelers RB, DeAngelo Williams, request to don pink cleats or wristbands season-long in honor of his mother who passed from breast cancer. This came shortly before Cam Heyward tweeted that the league had fined him $6k for writing “Iron Head” on his eye-black, an ode to his NFL running back father whom died from cancer. In one fell swoop, the shield dismissed two cancer victims’ children with rules about shoes and two, one inch, Sharpie scrawled words.

Obviously, I understand you can’t have dudes out there wearing anything they want. I remember when the NFL was hitting guys like Clinton Portis up for $20K for mismatching socks and shoes with 5% tinted helmet visors. But the main point that perplexes me is Cam Heyward has been writing “Iron Head” on his eye black for well over a year now. In fact, he’s been doing it since college. Did the NFL just finally get around to the uniform infractions now that the domestic violence and deflategate issues have died down with the start of the season and everybody distracted? Did they feel the need to pull back on the cancer awareness reigns despite their vast profiting from the pink apparel?


DeAngelo Williams with his mother, Sandra Hill

Probably the worst part of it all is that DeAngelo Williams’ mother, Sandra Hill, was one of the reasons the league originally began letting it’s players wear pink at all. Back in 2009, Williams began working with the league to make October BC Awareness Month. The NFL accepted and has seen the cause generate tremendous revenue in the past five years. However in 2014, Hill passed away after already having survived two cancer bouts. Williams has stated his displeasure with the league as well as the Carolina Panthers organization since, stating that Greg Hardy was the only player, coach, or executive to attend his mom’s funeral and that “the last five or six years during October, (my mom) was celebrated, but then when she was no longer here — let’s move on. (I was) very disappointed. And, somewhat angry…” Now barely a year after her death, the NFL is again telling DeAngelo to move on.

However, DeAngelo countered in a way of his own, reverting to his pink dreadlocks and showing up to games and warm ups wearing as much pink as possible. Also, if you go on the back’s twitter page, he is a full blown breast cancer awareness advocate. It’s a safe bet to say Williams, who has also lost aunts to cancer, probably wouldn’t let any amount of fines or NFL denial take the fight out of his enduring body and soul.

The Steelers' newest running back acquisition sporting his pink dread tips.

The Steelers’ newest running back acquisition sporting his pink dread tips.

It seems that there is really just no fathomable way anyone could sensibly decipher the league’s clouded collaboration between their public relations staff and their disciplinary committee. Why make a mountain out of a mole hill with such a ridiculous issue such as this? I can somewhat understand not wanting a few random players to be the only guys out there with pink bands, caps, and shoes, but really, why get on Heyward?

The shield states Cam’s infraction comes by rule 5 – section 4 – article 8 of the 2015 NFL rule book (in it’s entirety):

Throughout the period on game-day that a player is visible to the stadium and television audience (including in pregame warm-ups, in the bench area, and during postgame interviews in the locker room or on the field), players are prohibited from wearing, displaying, or otherwise conveying personal messages either in writing or illustration, unless such message has been approved in advance by the League office. Items to celebrate anniversaries or memorable events, or to honor or commemorate individuals, such as helmet decals, and arm bands and jersey patches on players’ uniforms, are prohibited unless approved in advance by the League office. All such items must relate to team or League events or personages. The League will not grant permission for any club or player to wear, display, or otherwise convey messages, through helmet decals, arm bands, jersey patches, or other items affixed to game uniforms or equipment, which relate to political activities or causes, other non-football events, causes or campaigns, or charitable causes or campaigns. Further, such armbands and jersey patches must be modest in size, tasteful, non- commercial, and non-controversial; must not be worn for more than one football season; and if approved for use by a specific team, must not be worn by players on other teams in the League.

Why would you really not allow Cam Heyward’s “modest in size, tasteful, non-commercial, non-controversial” 1 inch eye black? Is the NFL really willing to continually fine a guy and raise this much of a stink over something like this? At least they are somewhat consistent on this issue. Back in ’04, the Tagliabue commissioned league turned down “Big” Ben Roethlisberger on wearing “PFJ (Play For Jesus)” written on his cleats. Another thing that is absolutely puzzling is that a player cannot pay tribute or ode to a “charitable cause” within their uniform even though the league was one of the world’s biggest not-for-profit organizations in the world until earlier this year.

A young Pitt student, Craig

A young Pitt student, Craig “Iron Head” Heyward (far right) poses as a Heisman Trophy finalist.

Ultimately, who really cares about what an NFL player writes on his shoes in sharpie? Is there anybody but a few guys in the league’s office that are really upset about this? It’s not going to distract anybody or take away from gameplay and God forbid anyone on the telecast talks about anything but the actual game. One thing that is a big takeaway from this is that Cameron Hayward showed a lot of himself as the bigger man. He and the league have come to a full agreement on a middle ground. Cam tweeted out the letter below explaining the deal where his “Iron Head” eye black can be purchased to support the cause. About two weeks after this all, the league approved a “Tackle Cancer” eye black all NFL players are permitted to wear.

If you want to see more on Cameron Heyward and the backstory of his eye black cause, view this interview with ESPN’s Michelle Beisner.


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