Paid Patriotism

Back in May I wrote about the apparent undercurrent of unhappiness in military circles about the sort of ritualistic but not terribly deep expressions of support from civilians they receive these days in airports and on playing fields. After all, thanking people for their sacrifices isn’t quite a substitute for sharing them as a lot more Americans used to do. And the “tributes to the troops” we see at so many sporting events are on occasion celebrations of warfare rather than warriors.

But now it turns out those tributes aren’t as sincerely patriotic as we thought, at least at professional sporting events. Bill Theobald at USA Today has the disturbing story:

The Pentagon has paid more than $9 million to professional sports franchises the past four years, including $6.8 million to stage “paid patriotism” events, Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain disclosed Wednesday.

The events ranged from full-field displays of the American flag to enlistment and re-enlistment ceremonies and emotional reunions of returning servicemembers and their families.

“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 with McCain to release the report.

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.

I’m with Flake. It’s “simply not right.” But I guess this revelation does indicate that all the hoopla at sporting events isn’t some cheap expression of guilty gratitude by people happy to send others into harm’s way. It’s not that genuine.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.