Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain have released a report called "Tackling Paid Patriotism" which details how the military spent millions of tax dollars to put on halftime shows, honor guards, jet flyovers, and other spectacles at professional and college sporting events.
In 2013, a roaring crowd cheered as the Atlanta Falcons welcomed National Guard members who unfurled an American flag across the Georgia Dome's turf. Little did those fans—or millions of other Americans—know that the National Guard had actually paid the Atlanta Falcons for this display of patriotism as part of a $315,000 marketing contract.
This unfortunate story is not limited to professional football, but is repeated at other professional and college sporting events around the nation. In fact, these displays of paid patriotism are included within the $6.8 million that the Department of Defense (DOD) has spent on sports marketing contracts since fiscal year 2012.
What a revolting spectacle, no? The presumption among viewers is that this stuff is being done for free as some sort of true patriotic feeling. Instead, it's yet one more scam that a scandal-plagued military-industrial complex and pro sports league are foisting on folks. God knows the NFL is near broke, so it needs all the pennies it can scrape together, right? Channeling Samuel Johnson, Bob Dylan once sang that "patriotism is the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings." Scoundrels—and professional sports teams that are already ripping off the public six ways to Sunday.
The report has prompted a backlash—both against the military for wasting tax dollars and the NFL for taking tax dollars in this way rather than simply through stadium subsidies and other more time-worn rip-offs—and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has pledged that teams will return all money they received through the programs. More specifically, he said the league will conduct an audit and "if we find that inappropriate payments were made, they will be refunded in full." So I'm guessing that probably no dollars will actually head back to the treasury.
According to Deadspin, the teams making top dollar off the program were all in the NFL:
These 10 teams were paid the most for their salutes to the troops:
- Atlanta Falcons $879,000
- New England Patriots $700,000
- Buffalo Bills $650,000
- Minnesota Wild $570,000
- Baltimore Ravens $534,500
- New Orleans Saints $472,875
- San Diego Chargers $453,500
- Seattle Seahawks $453,500
- Atlanta Braves $450,000
- Indianapolis Colts $420,000
In an addendum to the report, Flake and McCain include team owner statements that bleed patriotism and a "was that wrong?" posture that calls to mind Seinfeld's George Costanza after being caught having sex on his desk with the cleaning woman. From the Falcons' owner:
It is regretful that the good works of our NFL league office and teams were overlooked in the news stories of the last few days, and I hope this letter aids in painting a more accurate portrayal. We remain steadfast in our desire to be good citizens and proud supporters of our community, including our support of the important work of our Armed Forces.
Related: Was that wrong?