Paid patriotism in U.S. sports

By Ariana Figueroa

It’s not uncommon to have military tributes at sporting event, whether it’s at the professional or armature level. Aside from sports having the unique ability to bring community members together regardless of race, sex, religion and social class, most U.S. citizens stand by their soldiers and veterans when they are honored during sporting events. Seeing men and women military officials at games creates a sense of pride and can unite an entire nation, which is why the Pentagon has spent $6.8 million to pay for patriotic displays during sports games, according to national public radio.

A report released by Senator John Flake and Senator John McCain stated that since 2012 the Pentagon has signed 72 contracts with teams in the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer. The NFL had 18 teams, MLB had 10 teams, the NBA had eight teams, NASCAR, eight soccer teams, Iron Dog and Indiana University had contracts with the Department of Defense to put on paid displays of patriotism.

This paid patriotism is not only manipulative to sports fans but is also funded by taxpayers who are unaware they are paying for these advertisements. According to NPR, it cost $49,000 to allow the Wisconsin Army Guard to sponsor the “God Bless America” song during the Milwaukee Brewers game and taxpayers funded that performance.

Another example is the New York Jets had a contract that paid the team $20,000 to “recognize one of two New Jersey Army National Guard soldiers as hometown heroes,” according to the report. These ‘hometown heroes inspire a sense of pride for fans at these events, but these heroes are really just marketing ploys.

The league that got the most paid contracts was the NFL with $6 million, with The Atlanta Falcons earning $879,000; the New England Patriots with $700,000; and the Buffalo Bills with $650,000, according to USA Today. The Patriots were the second-largest recipients among the professional sports teams.

In the contract with the Falcons, about 80-guard member carried an American flag across the field, according to the article. The Falcons owner Arthur Blank defended his teams contract. In a statement he wrote: “Our marketing and sponsorship agreement with the National Guard is designed to fulfill their objectives of increasing awareness and aiding in recruiting efforts, which has become more important in an all-volunteer service environment. This is no different than any other sponsorship agreement in that it is structured to fit a business need.”

That statement used sports as a platform to promote the National Guard, something fans were not aware of and paid for. Sports is about bringing people from all backgrounds together and by using the military to create a sense of nationalism and patriotism is deceitful to sport fans. It preys on the sense of unity that sports is able to bring to its fans and athletes.

The senators found that the paid patriotism included a variety of activities such as on-field color guards; enlistment and re-enlistment ceremonies; performances of the national anthem; full-field flag details; ceremonial first pitches and puck drops; and hometown hero and wounded warrior tributes. The senators said these patriotic tributes are popular with sports fans, but these fans have no idea that these events are funded by the Pentagon under contract with the teams because they think they were watching voluntary salutes to the military, not a contract for patriotic pride by a team or stadium management.

These contracts for paid patriotism aren’t fair to fans or veterans for that matter because those soldiers who were ‘recognized’ were used as a marketing ploy and not for their service to their country. It’s disrespectful to veterans and soldiers because their service is being used to manipulate fans into being patriotic under false pretenses.

The Pentagon justified the contracts because it said they were part of a campaign to promote the armed services and boost recruitment through patriotic events, game tickets, player appearances and other acts. Matthew Allen, the Department of Defense spokesman said in a statement the campaigns “help to educate the public, build brand recognition, renew interest in public service and overcome negative perceptions of military that may exist among influencers and eligible youth.”

Sen. McCain disagreed with the contracts because they exploit taxpayers and misrepresent men and women serving the military. “Americans across the country should be deeply disappointed that many of the ceremonies honoring troops at professional sporting events are not actually being conducted out of a sense of patriotism, but for profit in the form of millions in taxpayer dollars going from the Department of Defense to wealthy pro sports franchises,” he said in a statement. “Fans should have confidence that their hometown heroes are being honored because of their honorable military service, not as a marketing ploy.”

Soon after a the report the Department of Defense banned paid patriotism in sports and the NFL has urged all members to refuse payment for paid patriotism but the Department of Defense can’t account for the extent of paid patriotism activities. According to the report, more than a third of paid patriotism contracts were not included in the Department of Defense.

These findings showed the government interfering in the culture of sports. With sports naturally having the ability to bring people together, the Department of Defense used that to set their own platform.

There’s nothing wrong with honoring those who serve out country at sporting events because they do deserve to be recognized for their sacrifice and service. What’s wrong is using their service as a marketing tool to increase military support from sports fans. These fans will feel a sense of pride and nationalism when they see these military officials and veterans honored and recognized at sporting events. These soldiers should be recognized for their service, not used as an opportunity or platform. Sports should be a way for a community to gather together because of a game, not for monetary benefits and government should not interfere in the culture sports provides.

 

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