According to Senators Flake and McCain, at Least 50 Different Sports Teams Received "Pay for Patriotism" Money

By Jason Lisk

Last month, word came out that Congress was looking to ban the “pay for patriotism” salutes where sports teams dressed up honoring the military as salutes, while getting paid by the Department of Defense behind the scenes. That was spearheaded by Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who was joined by fellow Senator and military veteran John McCain in releasing a report today about their investigation into the practice.

The report lists 50 professional sports teams from the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS that received some sort of federal funding to do a “pay for patriotism” promotion where it appeared to be honoring a military member or branch, but where they were receiving money for engaging in the activity. As the report states, “[u]nsuspecting 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. This not only betrays the sentiment and trust of fans, but casts an unfortunate shadow over the genuine patriotic partnerships that do so much for our troops, such as the National Football League’s Salute to the Service campaign.”

According to the report, more than a third of the incidents were discovered during investigative work, independent of disclosure by the Department of Defense. The Flake-McCain report found that two-thirds of the contracts reviewed contained some form of paid patriotism. It should be noted that these are different from the military clearly sponsoring something and properly paying for the right to advertise with teams in the former of signage and other materials, like any other business.

Here are some of the examples taken from the report of some of the types of activities you may have witnessed in the stands as a fan, which went beyond the team simply providing a salute to troops, and involved them getting paid for it:

  • A welcome home promotion to provide a surprise meet-and-greet with a Falcons player for a GAARNG soldier returning home from deployment (FY2013)
  • Recognition of a hometown hero or wounded warrior – including an on-field presentation, jumbotron recognition, PA announcement, etc. – during two Colts home games (FY2012)
  • Recognition of one MNARNG soldier as the soldier of the game at each Vikings home game on live video boards and through public address announcements (FY2012)
  • $20,000 to recognize one to two NJARNG soldiers as hometown heroes on the videoboard at each Jets home game and Coaches Club access for the recognized soldier(s) and three guests (FY2012)
  • Four on-field presentations at Atlanta Braves games that, could be used for a surprise homecoming, first pitch, calling play ball and parades (FY2013, FY2014)
  • $49,000 for WIARNG to sponsor each Sunday performance of “God Bless America” during Brewers home game with announcement and logo recognition on the video board (FY2014)
  • Opportunity for an AZARNG soldier to deliver the ceremonial first pitch before the Sept. 17, 2014, Diamondbacks home game (FY2014)
  • One performance of the national anthem by a TXARNG soldier at a Texas Rangers game and 40 game tickets to Texas Army National Guard Night (FY2012)
  • One feature video presentation highlighting a National Guard soldier who performed a special task, returned from a tour of duty, helped with tornado victims, or other security measures deemed appropriate to be played at eight Atlanta Hawks home games (FY2013)
  • Celtics Soldier Spotlight promotion spotlighting three MAARNG soldiers per six Celtics home games in January (FY2012, FY2013, FY2014)
  • Opportunity for a USAF airman to perform the ceremonial puck drop, a color guard demonstration, and the option to have USAF personnel to rappel from the arena rafters at (Florida) Panthers Air Force nights (FY2012)
  • Recognition of a MNARNG soldier of the game and flag bearer highlighted on the center scoreboard at every regular season and postseason Wild home game (FY2012, FY2013, FY2015)
  • One military appreciation night including the opportunity UTARNG soldiers to participate in pregame and halftime recognition ceremonies during Real Salt Lake game and 150 tickets to the game for recruiting activities (FY2015)