The Milwaukee Brewers were paid by the military for “God Bless America” performances

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Back in May, NJ.com reported that the Department of Defense actually used tax dollars to pay for patriotic displays at sporting events. This controversy has come to be referred to as a “pay-for-patriotism” scandal and has called into question the various military-related salutes, promotions and events we see at college and professional sporting events. Are they genuinely heartfelt gestures or mainipulative and paid-for recruitment ads? Some are one, some are the other, some are both, it seems. Our coverage of the matter can be seen here and here.

Today Sentators John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona released a report on the matter called “Tackling Paid Patriotism.” Aside from having a spiffy as heck cover, it details how much the military paid teams and leagues for these events, broken down on a team-by-team basis. Go check it out here. Baseball is covered on pages 33-45. The baseball highlights:

  • The Braves received the most DOD money, at $450,000, which is VASTLY more than any other baseball team received and they put on many, many more military-themed events than the other clubs. The next highest was the Red Sox at $100,000, the Brewers at $80,000, the Rangers at $75,000 and the Mets at $51,000. The Phillies, Diamondbacks, Astros, Pirates and Indians all received less than $50,000. No other MLB teams were identified.
  • Most of the money to the clubs were for tributes, parades, promotions, appreciation days and tickets for the military. The Wisconsin Air National Guard, however, actually sponsored each Sunday performance of “God Bless America” during Brewers home games in 2014. The military also rented a private suite at Miller Park. The Texas Air National Guard sponsored a performance of the National Anthem at a Rangers game;
  • Despite the initial reports on this, including our own, not all of this stuff was stealth advertising. A lot of it was paying for tickets and meal vouchers for armed forces personnel, presumably as perks. Other things that were advertising were often labeled as such, including those “God Bless America” performances at Miller Park.

What to make of all of this? On the one hand, the aggregate money paid by the Department of Defense to professional sports teams was rounding error. Less than rounding error for the DOD, actually: $6.8 million since 2012. As someone I follow on Twitter who knows his way around Congressional work noted, it’s likely that this very report cost close to that. I mean, look again at that front page picture! That’s quality! We’re not talking about much money, especially for an advertising campaign.

On the other hand, this kind of advertising is still rather galling and manipulative, as fans are clearly led to believe that these salutes to the troops, “Hometown Hero” tributes and even renditions of “God Bless America” are public services by the team or, at the very least, spontaneous tributes. Which they’re clearly not. That’s especially true if it’s discovered — as I suspect it will be — that these efforts weren’t even effective as recruitment tools and, rather, did nothing more than cheapen genuine patriotism in a rather expensive way.

There is a huge amount of grandstanding going on here by Congress — these efforts aren’t illegal or fraudulent, even if they’re misguided and cynical — but I think it’s worth shining a light on the way in which the government has used sports to manipulate public sentiment about the military and patriotism in the past 15 years or so, and how sports have gladly accepted money to allow them to do it.