Pentagon Paid N.F.L. For Tributes To Troops

The tributes to the troops you see during N.F.L. games were most likely bought and paid for with your tax dollars.

NFL Military Tribute

Those tributes to American troops that you see at National League Football League stadiums at various points throughout the year are, apparently, bought and paid for by the Department of Defense, a surprising fact that was uncovered in an investigation by reporters at NJ.com:

When the Jets paused to honor soldiers of the New Jersey Army National Guard at home games during the past four years, it was more than a heartfelt salute to the military — it was also worth a good stack of taxpayer money, records show.

The Department of Defense and the Jersey Guard paid the Jets a total of $377,000 from 2011 to 2014 for the salutes and other advertising, according to federal contracts. Overall, the Defense Department has paid 14 NFL teams $5.4 million during that time, of which $5.3 million was paid by the National Guard to 11 teams under similar contracts.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who routinely posts examples of what he calls wasteful spending, called out the Jets’ agreement as wasteful and disingenuous.

“Those of us go to sporting events and see them honoring the heroes,” Flake said in an interview. “You get a good feeling in your heart. Then to find out they’re doing it because they’re compensated for it, it leaves you underwhelmed. It seems a little unseemly.”

The agreement includes the Hometown Hero segment, in which the Jets feature a soldier or two on the big screen, announce their names and ask the crowd to thank them for their service. The soldiers and three friends also get seats in the Coaches Club for the game.

“They realize the public believes they’re doing it as a public service or a sense of patriotism,” Flake said. “It leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”

Aside from the Hometown Heroes segment, the agreements also included advertising and marketing services, including a kickoff video message from the Guard, digital advertising on stadium screens, online advertising and meeting space for a meeting or events.

Also, soldiers attended the annual kickoff lunch in New York City to meet and take pictures with the players for promotional use, and the Jets allowed soldiers to participate in a charity event in which coaches and players build or rebuild a playground or park.

The Jets also provided game access passes.

A spokesman for the Guard, Patrick Daugherty, said in a statement the agreement was a tool to recruit and retain soldiers.

“Promoting and increasing the public’s understanding and appreciation of military service in the New Jersey Army National Guard increases the propensity for service in our ranks and garners public support for our Hometown Team,” Daugherty said.

A Jets spokesman, Bruce Speight, said the team has “consistently supported all five branches of the U.S. armed forces” and that commitment was separate and independent from the Jersey Guard’s sponsorship of the team.

“As with all of our sponsors, we have worked with the National Guard to create tailored advertising and marketing programs to meet their specific objectives which in this case was recruitment and retention by targeting our fans and audience through media and stadium assets controlled by the team,” Speight said.

According to the report, the Pentagon has similar arrangements with at least two other teams, but it’s not clear how many teams may actually be involved in the program. Left unstated are whether similar tributes we’ve seen at the Super Bowl in recent years were part of this program or whether they were indeed as “spontaneous” and philanthropic as the league obviously wants us to think they are.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, the expenditures here are an exceedingly infinitesimal part of the Defense Department’s budget. This was also true of the $7,000,000 NASCAR sponsorship by the Army that Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum questioned several years ago, something which actually caused her to get death threats. Additionally, there is some value in having the military spend some money on recruitment and public relations. And, of course, one can hardly fault the N.F.L. for taking the money given the fact that it is also a really good way for teams to boost public relations for themselves and for the league as a whole.

All the same, though, there’s something about this particular program that’s bothersome. The league and the teams pass these tributes off as some spontaneous thing that they are doing out of the goodness of their hearts, when it’s clear that there is at least some pecuniary motive involved here, Granted, there are a lot of things about modern spectator sports that are stage managed, but this seems particularly phony in a very crass sort of way.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Military Affairs, Sports, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Mikey says:

    I don’t disagree at all with buying time at sporting events as a recruiting method, but it should be obvious that’s what it is. When it comes to these things, you’re right, this has always been presented in a way that encourages viewers to infer it’s something nice the teams do rather than a bought-and-paid-for pitch. It just seems kind of slimy.

  2. Tony W says:

    This is but a tiny sliver of the full price of dropping the military draft – you always gotta be recruiting the next crop of cannon fodder. The military has little accountability to the people under our system, it’s just another market force out there lobbying for its own interests – with big business helping every step of the way.

  3. c.red says:

    I had not been aware if this, but I find it hardly surprising. The NFL is a corporation that makes billions of dollars from gouging the public and profiting off the long term health of it’s employees (it’s saving grace being that it makes it’s those employees wealthy as well.) That it would be less than truthful in advertising is not a stretch. What is more surprising is that anyone would expect a modern corporation, by design greedy and amoral, to show anything resembling altruism.

    As for the Pentagon, I have no problem with this from their side. The NFL is undeniably popular both with the general public and with soldiers. If it makes soldiers feel supported and reminds the public to not forget their is a segment of the population fighting wars while we watch TV and go to the mall it isn’t a waste of tax dollars.

  4. JohnMcC says:

    Really? Did anyone seriously think that those NFL teams ‘saluted’ soldiers because of patriotism? Maybe I’m even more cynical than I’d thought but that is what I find surprising about this. Remember what ‘Deepthroat’ told Woodward & Bernstein: Follow the money. That’s how one understands events in the US (and I suppose everywhere else).

  5. ernieyeball says:

    17,671 dead draftees.
    This is the price the USA paid for using Selective Service during the Vietnam War.
    RIP

    http://www.archives.gov/research/military/vietnam-war/casualty-statistics.html#service

    Of course the threat of being drafted encouraged many to enlist since the terms of enlistment were favorable compared to being drafted. (So said the recruiters.)
    It’s a good bet some of the remainder of the 58,220 American corpses resulting from that undeclared war fall into that category.

  6. Andy says:

    Few seem to realize that there would not have been a long, bloody war in Vietnam without the draft. A draft was the only method to raise the necessary manpower to send a half-million to Vietnam while simultaneously holding the line in Europe, Korea and elsewhere against the Soviets. Between 1960 and 1970 the total active duty US military strength increased by ~600k. (Today, the military is about 1/2 the size as it was in 1970). Absent that increase, there would not have been enough manpower fight a major land war in SE Asia.

    As for this article, the NFL and DoD should be ashamed. Paying for fake hagiography is dishonest and insulting.

  7. DrDaveT says:

    @Tony W:

    This is but a tiny sliver of the full price of dropping the military draft

    Sorry, but you (and the other people bringing up the draft in this thread) are about 40 years out of date. The current US forces have no use for a draft, and if one were implemented they wouldn’t know what to do with the draftees. There aren’t any “cannon fodder” roles to fill any more; lowly infantry privates are vastly better trained and equipped (at much more expense) than their Vietnam-era predecessors.

    The military spends money on recruiting because they need a higher caliber of recruit than in the past. That means they’re directly competing with the rest of the economy for smart, trainable youth. I’m as disgusted as you are that this recruiting is disguised as spontaneous love by the NFL (and the PGA, and other sports leagues), but I understand the reasons why there is an advertising budget within the DoD budget.

    Perversely, one of the few advantages DoD has had in recruiting is that they are a less racist industry than most, and thus have a relative advantage in recruiting smart black and latino boys from disadvantaged backgrounds. Every time society makes progress against racial discrimination, it hurts military recruiting. Go figure. (Of course, expanding the available roles for women in the military would have the reverse effect, at least in the short term…)

  8. Tony W says:

    @ernieyeball:

    17,671 dead draftees.
    This is the price the USA paid for using Selective Service during the Vietnam War.

    Generals love the current system – they can claim “hey, everyone volunteered of their own free will”, while conveniently ignoring the fact that the Walmart down the street shut down 2 years ago and there ain’t any unskilled labor jobs coming any time soon.

    At least with selective service the middle class participated in the US’ warmongering. Vietnam was a disaster on every level. The lesson should have been “let’s not get involved in wars of no interest to the US” instead the lesson was “let’s make sure politically powerless people serve in our enlisted ranks, because the middle class voters will pummel us if we kill their kids”.

  9. Tony W says:

    @DrDaveT:

    The current US forces have no use for a draft, and if one were implemented they wouldn’t know what to do with the draftees.

    I think the S. Koreans have the right idea – one year of mandatory service, then you get on with your life.

  10. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Propaganda’s not free.

  11. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    And, of course, one can hardly fault the N.F.L. for taking the money given the fact that it is also a really good way for teams to boost public relations for themselves and for the league as a whole.

    One should fault the NFL, because it shouldn’t have asked for or accepted money for this, because people finding out about this should be a major PR disaster. The NFL should have to do this free for the next 10 years and after that it can decide if they want to continue, for free, or end it. Or it should donate the money it was paid to a fund for injured veterans.

    But this isn’t a sane world, so this will just blow over and the NFL will most likely continue to be paid for it.

    Is there a number at the Department of Defense regular people can call to be paid for showing support for the troops?

  12. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Perversely, one of the few advantages DoD has had in recruiting is that they are a less racist industry than most, and thus have a relative advantage in recruiting smart black and latino boys from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    You’re kidding, right?

    The pre-civil war southern military tradition is infused in our modern day military.

    http://www.salon.com/2013/11/17/americas_angriest_white_men_up_close_with_racism_rage_and_southern_supremacy/

    Changes are being made, but to say that they are “less racist” is laughable.

    …the US military is more like a sanctuary for racists, gang members and the chronically unfit

    Enlightening reading: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/aug/31/us-army-racism-iraq-afghanistan

  13. DrDaveT says:

    @Tony W:

    I think the S. Koreans have the right idea – one year of mandatory service, then you get on with your life.

    No, I was serious — none of the US military services would have any use for people doing one year of mandatory service. One year isn’t enough to train you adequately for any position.

  14. ernieyeball says:

    One of the many problems with the draft was that until the 26th Amendment was added to USCon male citizens could not vote the bastards out of office who were shanghaiing them to get their heads blown off in the jungle.
    Mandatory service? Not so long ago when the eastern bloc communists did that we called it forced labor.

  15. Argon says:

    Give vets free or discounted tickets instead.

  16. Tony W says:

    @DrDaveT:

    One year isn’t enough to train you adequately for any position.

    That is not even close to the point. Let ’em serve food and mop floors (of course the private contractors would hate that).

    The point is that when we all participate we all have a personal stake in the warmaking, and ultimately we would be more hesitant to do stupid things like invade Iraq. The system is set up for money, money, money. That’s the American way, but there are better ways.

  17. al-Ameda says:

    None of this is surprising.

    We’ve been trotting out the Red, White and Blue at sports events since forever. Every professional sports event opens with the National Anthem, so why wouldn’t the Pentagon think that buying air time for star-spangled tributes to the troops was a smart move?

  18. SKI says:

    The original reporting has been contradicted. What was paid for was NOT the honoring of the military (which happened both before and after the contracts at issue) but actual signage and advertising.

  19. Tony W says:

    @SKI: Well I’m already worked up into a lather! So we need to rekindle the scandal!

  20. Pinky says:

    What next? Are you going to tell us that flyovers are paid for by the government too? I always just figured the Blue Angels borrowed the planes on weekends and refilled ’em before they brought them back.

  21. Tony W says:

    @Pinky: LOL