When my sister used the words "free bleeding," I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about.
Rachel had started an organization called Kitty Packs to help eradicate free bleeding in the homeless community, and she wanted my support. The only problem? I really didn't know what "free bleeding" was.
My name is Joshua Garnett. I’m an offensive guard for the San Francisco 49ers. I bleed all the time. And I was a human biology major at Stanford too, so blood and the human body are subjects I’m pretty familiar with. But this one had me stumped, so I asked Rachel to sit down and explain to me what it was all about.
Joshua Garnett is an offensive guard for the San Francisco 49ers. Photo via the San Francisco 49ers.
Free bleeding, as it turns out, is what happens when a person with their period can’t access pads or tampons. They’re forced to either come up with an unhealthy alternative or bleed on themselves.
That's why Rachel created Kitty Packs: to provide packages of sanitary items to people who can’t afford or can’t access them on their own. And as soon as she explained it to me, I was in.
Photo via iStock.
But why had I never heard of free bleeding until my sister created an organization to combat it?
I’m not a prudish guy. Growing up with a twin sister, I learned early about issues surrounding menstruation, and I’m not uncomfortable talking about it. And yet, it had never occurred to me to think of what people who can’t afford sanitary products do when they get their period.
Photo via Joshua Garnett, used with permission.
The reason I’d never heard of free bleeding is simple: People don’t want to talk about it. In fact, people don’t want to talk about periods at all — especially cisgender men. But the problem with that is that when people don’t talk about these important issues, they never learn about people who need their help. Problems like free bleeding fly under the radar.
That has to end.
Football players are thought to be about as manly as it gets. So I’m here to tell you: It’s not un-manly to talk about menstruation.
There are a lot of really inaccurate stereotypes surrounding the idea of what it takes to be a "manly man." Part of that is avoiding topics that seem too feminine, like menstruation. But the fact is that menstruation affects all genders, not just women — people who are gender nonbinary and transgender are affected by it too.
Photo via iStock.
But regardless of what gender a person who menstruates is, it’s never un-manly to care about someone’s well-being. People on their periods have to suffer through a lot — especially if they have to worry about whether they can afford sanitary supplies that month. As a cis man, the least that I can do is try to bring attention and support to that struggle.
That’s why I think it’s so important for me to use my platform and my resources as an NFL player to bring support to Kitty Packs and other organizations combatting free bleeding.
People without the resources to get tampons and pads definitely don’t have the resources to make their voices heard on a national level. But I do — and that’s why I’ve decided to raise my voice to get others involved in helping fight free bleeding in low-income and homeless communities.
There are a few ways you can help.
For one, you can go to your local grocery store and pick up a package of sanitary supplies and drop them off at your local homeless shelter. People often think to donate other things, like food and clothing, but forget about sanitary needs. Donating them whenever you can afford to is a huge help.
Joshua dropping off sanitary supplies at FESCO Family Shelter in Hayward, California. Photo via Joshua Garnett.
And yes, they’re expensive (even for a guy on the NFL's payroll). That’s half the problem — just imagine trying to budget for a box of these every month while you’re struggling to feed your family.
The other thing you can do is just be more vocal and work to help de-stigmatize periods: Do away with the idea that you can’t pick up a pack of tampons at the store. Don’t make a face when your friend mentions their cycle. The more comfortable we get with menstruation, the better equipped we are to fight free bleeding.
Photo via iStock.
In the end, it’s not about men or women. It’s about helping people who need it.
Menstruation has become a gendered topic, but it shouldn’t be. It’s something that affects everyone, whether directly or not. Even if you don’t have a period, someone you love does — and the greater society that you’re a part of is faced with menstruation issues every day. Step up and do your part to help solve those problems.
Joshua Garnett is one of more than 750 NFL players who will lace up for charitable causes as part of the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats initiative. Starting November 28, NFL players will reveal their custom cleats, many of which will be auctioned to raise money for the charitable organizations they support. For more information, visit www.nfl.com/mycausemycleats.