For weeks media outlets deluged viewers/readers with updates on the NFL’s “deflategate” investigation related to under-inflated game balls, but those same outlets made short work of the public confidence “deflategate” issue – that of professional football’s the US Defense Department’s paid-for salute to America’s military and veterans.
It’s hard to decide the greater disappointment. Is it the Department of Defense’s (more specifically the Army National Guard) assertion that paid-for patriotism equals real honor and serves as an effective recruiting tool? Or is it the NFL, which apparently believes deflated footballs are a greater issue than the League’s pricey cost of honoring the members of America’ armed forces. And don’t let’s forget that NASCAR appears a faux fan of our military as well.
This story, broken by NJ Advance Media journalists Christopher Baxter and Jonathan D. Salant, came as a surprise to a number of military folks. I was saddened to watch my Air Force son, home on leave for a couple of days, struggle to find the words to express his mystification as to why some of the highest paid folks in America needed to be paid to demonstrate their support for some of the lowest paid – but by far, the most committed to ensuring that freedom to earn the big bucks.
Over a dozen NFL teams are reported to have been paid $5.4 million for the Hometown Heroes salutes. According to data released by the Defense Department, the Atlanta Falcons were paid the most at $1,049,500. Between 2011 and 2014, the New York Jets were paid $344,000. The Baltimore Ravens saluted our military members at a cost of $844,500.
And while New York Jets spokesman Bruce Speight noted that the Jets supported all branches of the military and contributed $1 million to Building for Americas Bravest, a non-profit that builds smart houses for catastrophically wounded service members, it still does not take the sting out of those paid-for honors to our nation’s defenders.
New Jersey state senator Joe Pennachhio said of the paid-for honors: “If these teams really want to honor our veterans and service members, they should be making these patriotic overtures of gratitude for free and the millions of money already billed to taxpayers should be donated to veterans organizations.”
Pennachhio also noted that NFL teams already receive “so many public subsidies and tax breaks” that accepting these monies was a ‘money grab’.
We know all about “money grabs” in Louisiana, where the New Orleans Saints football franchise was paid nearly $600,000 to “honor” our service members.
But Patrick Daugherty, a National Guard spokesman defended the Guard’s practice of paying for honors to service members saying: “Promoting and increasing the public’s understanding and appreciation of military service in the New Jersey National Guard increases propensity for service in our ranks and garners support for our Hometown Team.”
Daughtery may want to consider Pennachhio’s view of such National Guard practices in this area.
“For-profit patriotism is a slap in the face to the men and women in the military who risk everything to fight for the freedoms we all enjoy.”
And US Senator Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, an outspoken critic of the for-profit patriotism, observed that when one discovers that sports teams are paid to “honor” our military members, you are left “underwhelmed.”
NFL football and NASCAR are lucrative enterprises. That these folks would take money – make money – to say “honor” the very folks who would give their lives to ensure these lucrative enterprises endure is an inexcusable disgrace.
If we truly, from the heart, would like to honor our military members, there will be a Joe Pennachhio in the legislature of every state that’s home to an NFL team that was paid a dime to participate in this reprehensible behavior.
On the other hand, and although a demonstration of such class and integrity is highly unlikely, maybe the Saints team members will encourage the team’s management to save state lawmakers the embarrassment of asking the franchise to look for a couple of Louisiana veteran’s organizations that could surely benefit from a big donation.
Marty Carlson is a columnist for the BPT. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org