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Pink Panthers

Posted Oct 8, 2009

Running back DeAngelo Williams, rocking the pink gloves and cleats at Thursday's practice. (PHOTO: ANDREW MASON / PANTHERS.COM)

CHARLOTTE -- With every sighting of a player in pink last Sunday, DeAngelo Williams' cell phone buzzed. It was his mother, a breast cancer survivor, pointing out every player accessorizing in attention-snatching hot pink hues.

Pink wristbands. Pink towels. Pink gloves. Pink bills on sideline hats. Pink ribbons on coaches' shirts. Never before had the league been so awash in a color that none of its teams claim as part of their palette.

Sitting in front of televisions separated by several hundred miles, Williams and his mother beamed with pride as the league brought breast-cancer awareness to the forefront in a manner impossible to ignore.

"My family has been affected by it four times," Williams said. "I've lost three aunts to it and my mom got it diagnosed five years ago. She's been in remission for five years."

But to Williams, the most important symbol was on players' feet.

"Nothing's stronger than wearing pink on the thing that keeps you going in the National Football League, and that's your cleats, because if you don't have a firm foot in the ground, then you'll slip," he said.

It was that notion and his family's experiences with breast cancer that inspired Williams to suggest that players be allowed to wear pink footwear this month.

"I made a suggestion to Riley (Fields, the Panthers' director of community relations) and then Riley took it to the league and they okayed it," Williams said. "I was shocked, because normally when you present stuff like that it doesn't even get past the front gate."

It was therefore ironic that Williams couldn't wear pink when the rest of the league did because the Panthers had their bye last Sunday. But by Wednesday afternoon, a box containing the pink cleats sat in his locker.

Wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, tight end Gary Barnidge and running back Jonathan Stewart also plan to join in. Each added pink to their practice-time ensemble this week, with Muhammad trying out pink cleats Wednesday and Barnidge and Stewart brandishing pink gloves Thursday morning.

As with Williams, the cause is personal for Muhammad, whose mother and mother-in-law are breast cancer survivors.

"Obviously awareness is very important. I'll be looking out for my four daughters one day to make sure they get tested, since it does run in the family," he said.

"I think any time you go through an ordeal like that ... you want to reach out and touch other people and just do what you can. My mother and mother-in-law are obviously happy about having it in their rear-view mirror. It's really a blessing that they discovered it when they did."

And because of that, survivors like Muhammad and Williams' mothers can watch Sunday, knowing that their cause is the league's, that there may come a day when their struggles are eradicated by a cure.

"They have allowed us to wear pink this year for a couple of games, so we're definitely going to take it to the extreme," Williams said. "We're going to wear as much pink as possible because they allowed us to, and it represents a great cause."