Sports and patriotism: They go together like, well, products and endorsements.
As it turns out, what seemed to be an organic, patriotic gesture of honoring military service personnel at professional sporting events was actually a savvy marketing strategy funded by the Department of Defense. Portrayed as a noble gesture by 72 franchises across the United States, these marketing stunts brought in a total of $10.5 million for the participating teams.
What were they paid for? According to the report released by U.S. Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain, the intent was to fund events, gestures and other activities that appeared to be either spontaneous or conducted as a team's own goodwill. In other words, teams were paid to trick fans into believing that these acts were charitable and in line with American values.
And who can blame the government for seeing the value in these acts? How many times has the honoring of a serviceman brought a crowd to its feet, and put tears in the eyes of fans who appreciate the virtues of military service and sacrifice? But the heart of these acts was nothing more than propaganda designed to win and strengthen sports fans' support of the military, all while manipulating the national discourage on patriotism and service to your country.
"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," said McCain 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."
And these ploys were plentiful in both number and form. The Milwaukee Brewers were paid $49,000 to present the Wisconsin Army National Guard as sponsors of every Sunday rendition of "God Bless America" at Brewers home games. The deal included video board usage to announce the sponsorship and display the National Guard logo.
The Arizona Diamondbacks were paid to have an Arizona Army National Guard soldier throw out the first pitch of a game in September 2014. The New York Jets were paid $20,000 to recognize two New Jersey Army National Guard soldiers as hometown heroes on the videoboard at every Jets home game in 2012, and to provide Coaches Club access to those soldiers and three of their guests.
The list goes on, but the descriptions are all the same: All of those noble acts of patriotism were covertly financed efforts to manipulate fans.
And the biggest beneficiary won't surprise you:
The worst NFL offenders in terms of Defense Dept. $$ for paid "patriotic tributes," per the Congressional report. pic.twitter.com/TXC6uW0myn
— Bart Hubbuch (@BartHubbuch) November 4, 2015
In total, the NFL received $6.1 million of the $10.5 million handed out to sports teams from the Department of Defense, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has already determined to investigate those payments.
"If we find that inappropriate payments were made, they will be refunded in full," Goodell said in a statement.
Football is the most culturally relevant sport in America at the moment, and one that is heavily associated with military service. Look at the way the league manages its players, gradually buckling down on player behavior and gestures while aggressively fining any players who violate uniform dress code policies. It makes perfect sense that the Department of Defense would want the NFL as a promotional partner.
But deceiving fans is inexcusable, and hopefully both the DoD and professional sports teams will feel the consequences. This example of paid patriotism should underscore the inorganic nature of these sentiments. Without criticizing patriotism or suggesting it is anything but a positive quality among the individuals who embrace it, the Department of Defense is heavily involved in working to shape the public perception of the military. While trying to foster patriotism, they've done it in a highly unethical way here.
And let's not forget the roles of those military service members, who likely attended those events believing they were receiving a genuine display of recognition from sports teams. They got that from the fans in attendance, but from the teams themselves, they were nothing more than financial pawns.
The Department of Defense's military branches, including the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, are visible sponsors of many sports teams, placing ads inside stadiums and purchasing advertising slots during TV broadcasts. There's nothing wrong with that.
Manipulating the American public is a different story. Now both the DoD and the participating sports franchises need to answer to their actions.