Who would have known many of those smiling soldiers on the football stadium scoreboard, the ones home from war, were for sale? The stadium announcers never said this as they demanded fans stand and applaud the waving men on the screen. Somehow they forget to mention that the defense department has sold these soldiers’ names and stories and plights for the fiction that this tender moment came without a check written to the home team.
By late Wednesday afternoon the depth of just how much patriotism the defense department has been selling to sports teams had come clear in a report commissioned by Republican senators John McCain and Jeff Flake – both of Arizona. And it was extreme, if not obscene.
According to the report, taxpayers spent close to $7m on patriotic displays at professional and college sporting events over the last four years. This included the unfurling of a gigantic flag held by service members at an Atlanta Falcons game, the re-enlistment ceremony for 10 soldiers at Seattle’s Century Link Field and the recognition of Air Force officers at a Los Angeles Galaxy soccer game.
In fact the report lists 74 pages of examples where military branches (mostly the National Guard) paid more than 50 sports teams for patriotic acts that were disguised as benevolent contributions by the teams themselves.
“By paying for such heartwarming displays like recognition of wounded warriors, surprise homecomings, and on-field enlistment ceremonies, these displays lost their luster,” the senators said in the report. “Unsuspecting audience members became the subjects of paid-marketing campaigns rather than simply bearing witness to teams’ authentic, voluntary shows of support for the brave men and women who wear our nation’s uniform,”
For years, sports teams have wrapped themselves in gigantic flags like those unfurled across fields for the national anthem. But until the costs for such displays leaked out back in the spring no one much knew the Georgia National Guard paid the Falcons $879,000 the last four years – in part – to have its soldiers hold one of those enormous flags.