Honoring military at sporting events has become as common as instant replay and the seventh-inning stretch. We applaud veterans and thank them for their service. It’s a wonderful, organic moment.
Only it isn’t.
Yes, as it turns out, freedom really isn’t free.
“What we found was from 2011 to 2014, 14 NFL teams had been paid about $5.4 million by the Department of Defense,” NJ.com reporter Chris Baxter said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show, “(with) most of that money coming through the Army National Guard for advertising, including some segments honoring troops at home games. Some of the teams we talked to said they paid for advertising, some of them paid for tickets, some of them paid for opportunities to (get photographs) with the players for recruitment, some of them paid for digital banner displays in the stadium, and so on and so forth.
“I think what people have picked up on and what some people have taken issue with is the fact that some of the federal taxpayer money is going to segments that most people sitting in the stadium think are probably just being done out of the good nature (of) the home team.”
It’s not. And people aren’t okay with that, including Arizona Republican senator Jeff Flake.
“He’s taken issue with this,” Baxter said, “and he recently wrote a letter to the Pentagon asking for them to detail not just the contracts and agreements in the NFL, but all sports leagues. He believes some of this may be going on in some of the other leagues.”
To reiterate, NFL teams are pocketing federal taxpayer money.
“I think it strikes a chord with some because I think as everyone knows, we’re kind of in a stretch here where military has been told to tighten your budget, cut down where you can,” Baxter said. “And yet, $5.4 million is no insignificant sum to be coming down through the Department of Defense and the National Guard. Taxpayer money (is) going to NFL teams, many of whom are owned by millionaires and billionaires. And some of the reaction we’ve seen is, ‘Well, wait a minute. These are really small sums when you look at the overall amounts that these teams bring in. Why can’t they just offer this up as part of their supporting the troops?’”
The Bengals, Bills, Browns, Chiefs, Colts, Cowboys, Dolphins, Falcons, Jets, Packers, Rams, Ravens, Steelers and Vikings have all accepted money. To them, the military is simply a big business, and if a big business wants to advertise, then so be it. Besides, NFL teams often make charitable donations to the military anyway.
“I don’t think anyone is suggesting they don’t,” Baxter said. “Really the issue here is, again, segments where you’re sitting in a game, a soldier comes up on the big screen with his name, the announcer thanks him or her for their service and everyone applauds. I know myself having gone to games – and I think most people having gone to games – think that is a way for fans to honor the troops. So a lot of people have been surprised that their own federal tax dollars have paid for some of that.”
Hopefully that will soon no longer be the case.
“We’ve heard from the Jets a couple times,” Baxter said, “and most recently they said, Look, we don’t have this agreement anymore, but if we did do something like this in the future, we’re going to make sure that people in the stadium know if there’s a segment that is part of a paid advertising agreement, we’re going to make that clear. So that’s one tangible step forward that we’ve seen.”
Even New Jersey governor Chris Christie has gotten involved, saying the Jets need to pay back whatever money they accepted to salute the troops.
“He said the troops need to be supported for their service,” Baxter said, “not as part of a marketing agreement.”