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.
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.