Paid patriotism

For years now, millions of Americans across the nation have watched from the stands and from their living rooms as tributes to the nation’s military services have taken place before or during nationally televised games featuring many of the nation’s top professional sports teams. We, like most of those Americans, assumed those tributes were mounted by the home teams themselves as a grateful gesture of patriotism. Not so, according to an investigation unveiled recently by Republican U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both of Arizona.

According to their report, the Pentagon has spent at least $6.8 million since 2012 to pay for patriotic displays during National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer games. Those displays have included full-field displays of the American flag, enlistment and re-enlistment ceremonies and emotionally-charged reunions of individual service members with family members, all intended to help with recruiting efforts.

The biggest beneficiaries of this taxpayer-funded largesse, according to the report, were the Atlanta Falcons (football) with $879,000, the New England Patriots (football) with $700,000, the Buffalo Bills (football) with $650,000, the Minnesota Wild (hockey) with $570,000 and the Atlanta Braves (baseball) with $450,000.

While apparently not illegal, the duplicity involved was sharply criticized by the two senators who initiated the investigation. “What is upsetting is when you see activities like this that people assume when they go to games are paid for out of the goodness of the heart by the owners and the teams, and then top find out the taxpayers are paying for it,” said Flake at a Nov. 4 news conference. “It kind of cheapens, and it’s simply not right.”

McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, was equally disgusted. “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.”

The Defense Department was “especially aggressive” in trying to withhold information about the scheme, according to McCain. But the DoD now has banned such paid patriotism. And the two senators reportedly have added a provision to the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act expressly prohibiting the practice.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also reportedly has said the league will refund money its teams received for tributes to the troops.

Those actions should bring to an end this whole distasteful affair.


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