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Air Force drill team members perform during halftime at Giants Stadium. (Photo: MarineCorps NewYork/flickr/cc)

Patriotism for Sale: The Pentagon's Pro-War Propaganda Scheme with Pro Sports

Department of Defense said secretive contracts were intended to boost military recruitment

Nadia Prupis

Since 2012, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has paid out more than $10 million to professional sports teams to stage "paid patriotism" events that used taxpayer money to serve the military's recruitment efforts, according to a new government oversight report (pdf) released Wednesday.

The Pentagon contracted with 72 separate sports teams, including those in the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Hockey League (NHL), NASCAR, and Major League Soccer, according to the investigation, conducted by Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both from Arizona. The events, which ranged from surprise homecomings and enlistment ceremonies to ceremonial first pitches and wounded warrior tributes, were presented as authentic and voluntary—exploiting audiences and dishonoring "genuine" patriotic partnerships, the report states.

Moreover, the $10.4 million figure is only a fraction of the military's $53 million total reported expenditures on marketing and advertising contracts with sports teams between 2012 and 2015. And even those numbers may be under-reported, McCain and Flake found.

Between 2012 and 2015, taxpayers unwittingly paid a total of $879,000 for the DOD's contract with the Atlanta Falcons, who in 2013 welcomed 80 National Guard members to unfurl a massive American flag in the Georgia Dome ahead of the National Anthem for a roaring crowd of spectators.

Elsewhere, the Seattle Sounders pocketed $128,000 to play "a compelling Army National Guard public service message" during games.

And the New England Patriots took $700,000 to honor one Massachusetts Army National Guard (MAARNG) soldier at each home game between 2012 and 2014.

Many of the contracts also included promises of game tickets, access to luxury suites, and gifts, among other perks.

"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 to find out the taxpayers are paying for it. It kind of cheapens [it] and it's simply not right," Flake said at a news conference Wednesday.

USA Today reports:

The advertising-marketing contracts were intended to help with recruiting efforts, but the military has no hard evidence they were effective. Many of the agreements involved the National Guard. The exact amount of the marketing contracts that went toward activities deemed as paid patriotism could not be determined.

[....] Flake asked in May for records of all marketing contracts since 2012 between military and sports franchises after discovering one between the New Jersey Army National Guard and the New York Jets.

But the material he received from the Pentagon was incomplete and in some cases misleading, the report said. Military officials turned over only about two-thirds of the 122 contracts identified by Senate investigators.

The investigation sent NFL commissioner Roger Goodell scrambling, writing to senators on Monday to promise "an audit of all contracts between our clubs and the military service branches or state National Guard units" and compensation for inappropriate payments, "if we find [them]."

It also expands on a previous report released in May that resulted in changes to the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by banning such expenditures. The NDAA was vetoed by President Barack Obama, but Congress is expected to vote on a revised version soon.

"[T]his kind of paid patriotism is wholly unnecessary and a waste and abuse of taxpayer funds, and it must end," Flake and McCain concluded on Wednesday. "Direct and persistent sunlight is the best way to ensure that such activities are not continued. Taxpayers—not the teams—paid for patriotism and VIP perks."

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