During the last several years, we’ve seen members of the United States military honored at professional sports events with heart-warming reunions, stunning standing ovations, waving flags and touching warrior tributes. The public loves the ceremony and thought that their favorite teams and leagues salute brave men and women that give their lives to help protect our country.
This summer, a lid was released from a secret that not many knew. It turns out that the military PAID for their appearances at these games. So while we thought that teams generously invited military to take their bows, those clubs and some of the wealthiest organizations on the planet were handsomely compensated for the honor to parade uniformed heroes.
According to a report commissioned by United States senators from Arizona, John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Jeff Flake, millions of taxpayer dollars were spent by the Department of Defense for everything from big-screen military recognitions to God Bless America renditions at baseball parks. National Football League teams benefitted most during the last four years as they reportedly raked in more than $6 million from “paid patriotism.” The report further reveals that the Pentagon spent $53 million on marketing and advertising contracts with sports teams between 2012 and 2015, “$10 million of which went to clubs in the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and Major League Soccer.”
Many of us learned about this story during the summer when “Deflategate” was part of our daily sports dialogue. It boggles me that news of monetary military honors received barely a public whimper compared to a breath of air in footballs. Even today, as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and select team owners have rightfully spoken out against, promised an audit and announced a stop to the paid patriotism, the story is muted compared to the minutiae that we debate each day.
If I’m on either side — the Defense Department’s or teams and leagues – I consider this report embarrassing and a public relations nightmare. That said, if no one except politicians complain, little PR response is needed except for promises to do better in the future.
The Defense Department responded that paid patriotism is part of its marketing and advertising to attract recruits. I understand publicity and paid advertising. The appearances, however, were conducted as if they were sincere honors.
I further hold teams and leagues accountable for this method of cloaked advertising. Big-time sports are flush because they do the business side well, but there are dozens of other ways to boost club coffers.
WE owe the military and their families for their time and often, their lives. Not the other way around.
©Gail Sideman, PUBLISIDE, 2015