Paid Patriotism

I get lots of enjoyment watching American football on Sundays (and Thursdays, and Saturdays, well, you get the picture). We spend more money than we really should on NFL Gamepass, and the associated privilege of watching ‘RED ZONE’ on Sundays during the NFL season, commercial free for seven hours, no less. They show you pretty much everything worth looking at, from every game going – which on the last Sunday of the regular season was an action-packed slate of sixteen games. 

One thing about football that I do not care to watch is commercials (the same ones oft repeated umpteen times in one telecast), which I can mercifully avoid with my paid subscription. And another thing I don’t particularly care for is anything that glorifies the business of war mixed in with virtually the only thing I watch on commercial television. This has absolutely nothing to do with football. When the heck did all this start, anyway?

Well, after a bit of digging, I found this article by Emma Niles of Truthdig from back in September of 2017 where this subject was explored more deeply. It turns out it all began back in 2009, when the DOD poured millions of dollars into the NFL in exchange for displays of patriotism during games. Before then, NFL players actually remained in their locker rooms until after the Star Spangled Banner was played – and the issue of whether or not every player from every team would stand (or sit) for a national anthem, given the opportunity, was moot. 

From Stephen Smith of ESPN, “The players were moved to the field during the national anthem because it was seen as a marketing strategy to make the athletes look more patriotic. The United States Department of Defense paid the National Football League $5.4 million between 2011 and 2014, and the National Guard $6.7 million between 2013 and 2015 to stage onfield patriotic ceremonies as part of military-recruitment budget line items.”

Even the late Sen. John McCain, who rattled sabres with the best of them, opined that this was not the best use of the military’s budget in a report co-authored with Sen. Jeff Flake in 2017.

“The report found that ‘seventy-two of the 122 (59 percent) major league contracts analyzed contained items deemed ‘paid patriotism’ — on-field color guard, 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’.”

In all, the military services reported $53 million in spending on marketing and advertising contracts with sports teams between 2012 and 2015.

“The DOD’s complete lack of internal controls for awarding, managing, and overseeing these contracts puts them at an excessive risk for waste, fraud, and abuse. Beyond being a question of if this contracting activity reflects appropriate judgement or fiscal stewardship of taxpayer funds, the fundamental question at hand is if this spending reflects appropriate national security priorities. In 2014, while the National Guard was spending millions on professional sports advertising, it was simultaneously requesting additional funds from Congress to cover a more than $100 million shortfall to pay its troops and conduct critical training.”

Civil rights activist Jesse Williams also brought up paid patriotism in an MSNBC interview back in 2017, calling this practice a “scam.”

“This is not actually part of football. This was invented in 2009 from the government paying the NFL to market military recruitment to get more people to go off and fight wars to die,” he said. “This has nothing to do with [the] NFL, or American pastime, or tradition. … This is to get boys and girls to go fly overseas and go kill people. They’re marketing. They’re pumping millions and millions of dollars into the NFL to get us to put on a pageant in front of the NFL football games to get you to go off and fight.”

On this point, I would have to agree with him. But whether or not some of us abhor this practice, it is probably here to stay.

And, for those honourable men and women induced by these displays of paid patriotism to enlist in military service, who is it they’re being asked to go fighting for, anyway? 

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog …

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