Horse Feathers: Komen Out At The Derby

March 8, 2012       Patrick Sullivan      

Susan G. Komen for the Cure got parked out on the backstretch and Stand Up To Cancer overtook it on the outside for the win.

Churchill Downs, parent company of the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Ky., has dropped its partnership with the embattled Dallas, Texas-based Komen, although Churchill Downs spokesman Darren Rogers said the split has nothing to do with Komen’s now-infamous decision to cease funding to Planned Parenthood.

“We made the decision last fall to part ways with Susan G. Komen,” he said. “A number of our patrons had asked about looking for broader ways to raise money for cancer research, not just breast cancer. We wanted to do more for other health concerns that reach further than Komen’s umbrella.”

Komen for the Cure announced its decision to cease funding certain Planned Parenthood affiliates in late January 2012, due to a new policy that disqualifies for funding groups under a government investigation, no matter how minor. Women’s health groups attacked the move, claiming it was about family planning, not the investigation. Kopmen backed off under pressure.

Churchill Downs will partner with Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation in Los Angeles, Calif., for its Kentucky Oaks event the day before the Derby. The 100,000 fans in attendance will wear pink in support of women’s health issues, and will view a parade of cancer survivors on the racetrack that Rogers characterized as “very touching.” Churchill Downs will donate $1 to SU2C for every fan in attendance. There were more than 110,000 spectators last year.

“When we introduced a sense of purpose to the Kentucky Oaks in 2009, we wanted to focus on women’s health issues,” said Rogers.

“We’re delighted to have this opportunity that will support work and research into a whole spectrum of cancer that affects women,” said Kathleen Lobb, co-founder of SU2C. “We have work underway not only on breast cancer, but on ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer (and) leukemia.”

Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Oaks joins Major League Baseball and broadcaster Fox Sports as sports sponsors of SU2C. Individually, L.A. Clippers forward Blake Griffin auctioned the 2011 Kia Optima he dunked over at the 2011 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, raising $35,220 for SU2C. Cyclist Lance Armstrong has also advocated for the organization. The organization also hosts a one-hour program simulcast on broadcast and cable stations that raises tens of millions of dollars.

Churchill Downs helped raise approximately $450,000 for Susan G. Komen during the three-year partnership. When asked if the recent controversy surrounding Susan G. Komen influenced Churchill Downs’ decision to break ties with the organization, Rogers was unequivocal. “We had a rewarding three-year run with Susan G. Komen and generated several hundred thousand dollars for research and outreach,” he said. “The recent issue had absolutely no impact with our relationship with Komen. It ended amicably.”

That is not the case with at least one major fundraiser. Eve Ellis, a former Komen New York City board member who has raised more than $250,000 during the past six years, said in a letter dated February 8: “It is with a heavy heart and angry mind that I have raised and donated my last dollar for Komen.”

Other sponsors were more guarded in their responses. The Republic of Tea, which donates a portion of sales from certain teas to Komen through its Sip for the Cure campaign, said on its website that “We are currently reviewing our Sip for the Cure program.” Four other sponsors — Caribou Coffee, Chesapeake Bay Candle, Forever 21 and Mrs. Baird’s Bakeries — made similar statements regarding reviewing their relationship with Susan G. Komen, but none of the four has announced a termination of the relationship.

Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Oaks joins Major League Baseball and broadcaster Fox Sports as sports sponsors of Stand Up To Cancer. Individually, L.A. Clippers forward Blake Griffin auctioned the 2011 Kia Optima he dunked over at the 2011 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, raising $35,220 for SU2C. Cyclist Lance Armstrong has also advocated for the organization.