Congress to Squash ‘Pay for Patriotism’ at Sporting Events

Taxpayers have been paying pro sports teams to wave the American flag for years. That’s about to end.

Over the past decade and half, in-your-face displays of patriotism have become de rigueur at American sporting events. From stadium-sized flags trotted out during the national anthem to the honoring of individual troops during commercial breaks, this stuff is now woven into the fabric of the game experience. 

If all that’s started to seem like a coordinated propaganda effort over the years, there’s a reason: the military has been paying teams for these not-so-subtle advertisements. Dubbed “pay for patriotism,” the practice has resulted in nearly $5.5 million in taxpayer money going to 14 NFL teams in the past five years.

But no longer. Congress is calling on the military to stop spending money on subliminal promotions at sporting events. “Thanking our troops ought to be something more than a marketing gimmick,” said Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who led the fight to end this spending. 

There are plenty of parties to criticize here, starting with wealthy NFL owners who happily use tax payer dollars to wrap themselves in the flag. You can bet Dez Bryant’s paycheck that when the Cowboys unfurl a 100-yard American flag on their field, most people think it’s a team or league-led initiative. Jerry Jones and Roger Goodell get the good will, while the taxpayers get the bill.

But let’s not let the military off the hook for its veiled recruiting tactics. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with supporting our troops, but dubliminal military recruitment dressed up as organic displays of patriotism is a bit inappropriate. How about we let football fans enjoy games without turning sporting events into recruitment drives? 

It should be noted that this bill wouldn’t affect overt military sponsorship or advertising. And it obviously wouldn’t prevent teams from saluting troops on their own dime, which is absolutely fine. But given how tight-fisted some of these billionaires are, it’d be best to not hold your breath. 

Photos by Del Rio / Getty Images