How the NFL sold patriotism to the U.S. military for millions

Standing for the national anthem is a new concept that may have coincided with a government marketing campaign.

"... As recently as 2015, the Department of Defense was doling out millions to the NFL for such things as military flyovers, flag unfurlings, emotional color guard ceremonies, enlistment campaigns, and — interestingly enough — national anthem performances. Additionally, according to Vice, the NFL’s policy on players standing for the national anthem also changed in 2009, with athletes “encouraged” thereafter to participate. Prior to that, teams were not given any specific instructions on the matter; some chose to remain in the locker room until after opening ceremonies were completed. (It’s unclear whether the policy change was implemented as a direct result of any Defense Department contracts.)

In 2015, Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake (R) and John McCain (R) revealed in a joint oversight report that nearly $5.4 million in taxpayer dollars had been paid out to 14 NFL teams between 2011 and 2014 to honor service members and put on elaborate, “patriotic salutes” to the military. Overall, they reported, “these displays of paid patriotism [were] included within the $6.8 million that the Department of Defense (DOD) [had] spent on sports marketing contracts since fiscal year 2012.”

Among the more wasteful expenditures were a payment to the Atlanta Falcons to have a National Guard member sing the national anthem and a payment to the Minnesota Vikings for the “‘opportunity’ to sponsor its military appreciation night.”

Overall, the Defense Department spent at least $10.4 million on “marketing and advertising contracts with professional sports teams” across the board between 2012 and 2015, although, the report noted, the department “[could not] accurately account” for the full number of contracts and payouts it had awarded. “It only reported 62 percent (76 of 122) of its contracts and 70 percent ($7.3 million) of its spending in its response to our inquiry,” the senators wrote..."

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