Patriotism for Sale

by John Delach

December 2015, Revised March 2019

There is nothing that excites or thrills politicians more than the opportunity to puff up and express righteous, unabashed, and nationalistic indignation against evil forces encroaching upon the American way. This opportunity to express indignity is especially satisfying when they can unleash it after discovering the culprit is a big bully, like Amazon, Google or Boeing especially if caught with their hand in Uncle’s till. Never mind these politicians own soiled reputations for not always doing the right thing; they either forget or down-play their own or fellow colleagues’ foibles in the pursuit of publicity.

Such political fodder provides representatives and senators with the opportunity to demonstrate displeasure and outrage without consequence allowing them to attack like a pack of mad dogs. Better yet, going off against powerful, rich and arrogant organizations, grabs the ever-hungry activist press and a little leak here and there sets off a feeding frenzy; forget the dogs, the sharks have taken control and there is blood in the water.

This incident broke when a New Jersey newspaper reported in the spring of 2015 that the New York Jets received $377,000 from the New Jersey National Guard for ceremonial events saluting the military during several their home games. This led to a Senate investigation chaired by Jeff Flake and the late John McCain, both the representing Arizona. The investigation revealed the Department of Defense (D.O.D.) had spent $6.8 million in 2014, “…on questionable marketing contracts with sports teams, including events to honor American soldiers at games…”

The sum of $5,400,000 was paid to the biggest sports bully in the known Universe, the National Football League. Fourteen of the NFL’s 32 teams participated including the Jets, the Atlanta Falcons ($877,000), Buffalo Bills ($650,000) and the New England Patriots ($700,000).

Of course, the D.O.D. spent the bulk of their money with NFL teams. That’s where every smart advertiser goes to get the most bang for their buck. Even so, the NFL was not the only venue. Various entities within the D.O.D., mostly state National Guard organizations, paid money to teams for promotional consideration from Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association. Teams that profited included the Atlanta Braves ($450,000), Boston Red Sox ($100,000), Arizona Diamondbacks ($40,000) and Minnesota Wild ($500,000).

The Boston Globe reported: “The Boston Celtics received $195,000 in part to spotlight soldiers at home games. The Boston Bruins received $280,000 for national anthem performances, color guards and reenlistment ceremonies.”

Senator McCain opined: “It is hard to understand how a team accepting taxpayer funds to sponsor a military appreciation game, or to recognize wounded warriors or returning troops can be construed as anything other than paid patriotism.”

Senator Flake added: “These tributes are as popular as the kiss cam. But when people assume this is a goodwill gesture and then find out the heart-felt moment is part of a taxpayer-funded marketing campaign, it cheapens the whole thing.”

Bloomberg News reported that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell pledged to conduct an audit of all contracts between NFL teams and the military promising: “Any payments made for activities beyond recruitment or advertising will be refunded in full.”

God knows, Goodell has every incentive to be proactive and corral bad publicity as quickly as possible. Goodell has already been suffering through a series of annus horribilis as he bumbled through a multitude of NFL issues like domestic abuse, head injuries, and concussions, kneeling during our National Anthem and the machinations of the New England Patriots. If it isn’t Tom Brady having footballs deflated, it’s Bob Kraft personal deflation in the Orchards of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida.

Two footnotes:  

1: The amount involved ($6.8MM) doesn’t exactly impact on the D.O.D. budget of $619 billion as it represents .00001% of this amount.

2: Note, the New York Football Giants, New York Yankees and New York Mets remained clean.