It’s Veterans Day, when people of this country pay tribute to those who served. However, unless you haven’t watched a sporting event since about 2000, it seems that’s been going on in every game in every league.
Last week, sports fans were given a cruel reminder of how much money controls the games they love with the release of the “Tackling Paid Patriotism” report. In that report, the Miami Dolphins were named as having accepted $20,000 in taxpayer money from the Department of Defense to provide certain perks.
Contracted by the United States Air Force, the Dolphins gave 25 Delayed Entry Program (DEP) members and their families or “other influencers” (detailed in the report as teachers, coaches, administrators and guidance counselors) a private tour of the practice facility after their swearing-in process.
The amount isn’t as much as most of the named teams, but it’s more than a few others.
When combined with the Florida Panthers, who got $40,000 in taxpayer funds, the Miami area teams received $60,000. Comparatively speaking, Atlanta teams received $1.559 million, Minnesota teams accepted $972,000 and Boston teams took in $1.275 million. All taxpayer dollars offered to the teams by the DoD.
To put this in even more perspective, the Dolphins are last in the AFC East in DoD money received as the Buffalo Bills ($650,000), New England Patriots ($700,000), and New York Jets ($327,500) dwarfed the Miami allotment.
Since the report came out many in the media from the Sun Sentinel’s Dave Hyde to HBO’s John Oliver have weighed in on the impact that accepting taxpayer money from the military in order to honor active duty members and veterans is disingenuous. It doesn’t just stop at the Department of Defense. Military Appreciation Nights have gotten out of control and with the release of this report, sports fans all over the country should question the validity of every team and league’s motives to stage them.
Full disclosure: I’m a veteran. And for too long I felt that the “military appreciation” campaigns running rampant in sports were all a charade. Sadly, the release of the report authored by senators John McCain and Jeff Flake may have only shed just a glimmer of light on the situation.
There are certain teams not listed in the report, but they still hold these very events. Now the DoD didn’t pay for the teams to do it, but they still have someone paying for it.
Neither the Philadelphia Flyers or 76ers were named in the report but have no problems giving their military appreciation nights a commercial message. “Thank you for your service, now go buy a Camry!”
Does that cheapen the event? Should veterans and their service be used to remind the general populace they should buy cars or join an armed service? Don’t corporations and military services get enough time with ads on TV, newspapers, the Web, and elsewhere to hock their wares?
The Flyers and Sixers are just two teams who threw their advertiser’s name in a tweet, but how many more say the name before the event? Next time you go to a game, pay attention to the announcer if that reunion or tribute was brought to you by a certain company. Because it probably was. Even if it wasn’t announced publicly. Patriotism is being privatized.
Not only this, but in news you may have missed during the NFL preseason, the St. Louis Rams staged a “surprise military reunion” for one of their cheerleaders, but according to Deadspin (disclaimer, foul language is in the Deadspin article if you click on the link), it was all a rouse.
Both August and Candace Ruocco Valentine served as first lieutenants in the United States Marine Corps. Candace became a St. Louis Rams cheerleader, and when she made her debut, she was surprised with the return of her husband. August returned from his post in South Korea, but that’s not the part where this gets upsetting.
August was not picked at random. He’s a member of the Busch family, you may remember that name from such huge conglomerates as the Anheuser-Busch corporation. The Rams played in Busch Memorial Stadium for a brief time and the Cardinals are on Busch Stadium number three. The Busch family still holds a lot of power in St. Louis.
Meanwhile, Candace isn’t exactly random either. Her mother, Katherine Ruocco, is running for a 2016 senate seat in Illinois and has given away Rams tickets on her campaign Facebook page as well.
See the connection here? These aren’t huge coincidences. They’re methodical, laid out plans to use active duty personnel and veterans as props to further someone else’s goals. Whether it’s money or power, the commodity of patriotism has become of great use to those in positions of authority.
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So how can any of these teams and leagues pretend that they care about veterans, active, or soon-to-be active service members when they were paid to do their events of appreciation? Whether it’s with taxpayer money or the funds of corporations, they all cheapen the service of those it’s supposed to honor.
You pay enough in tickets, parking, merchandise, and concessions. Most stadiums are paid with public money. To have to pay for your team feign adoration for the service of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and national guardsmen past, present, and future is insulting, demeaning, and infuriating beyond all comprehension. To have to sit through a maybe authentic moment while the team is watering it down with ads for things you already have or don’t need is dehumanizing.
Even though their allotment was minor in comparison to others, Miami helped turn serving and feeling pride in your country into a commodity. This is not intended to single out the Dolphins. To reiterate: they took less than many others teams. The DoD offered these teams taxpayer money and they took it. No one is a saint here.
Every sports league, along with the DoD, put a price tag on the service of veterans. These people chose to serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, National Guard, or Coast Guard, they didn’t volunteer to be used by owners and advertisers so they could make even more cash.
Instead of having these moments of false adoration, these professional sports teams, advertisers, and leagues could be doing more. Teams could donate all the proceeds from their camouflage merchandise to veteran causes like hospitals, training, and getting the VA fixed up. Instead of slapping their name on an appreciation evening, businesses could hire more veterans or accept their in-service work as legitimate experience so, for example, corpsman, nurses, and medics from the military can work in those fields once they detach from their service.
In terms of your money being used to sell patriotism back to you, every team should pay every cent back. For $6.8 million the DoD could do a number of things I just mentioned.
And if they all really did care, these teams then need to give something tangible back to the communities they ripped off and the veterans they used for monetary gain. Give the fans free merchandise, concessions, tickets, whatever. And for the communities, donate money to local schools and hospitals.
Then these teams should donate three times what they got from the taxpayers to a local veterans hospital or other veteran outlet. They want to prove they care about veterans? Go help the ones who really need the aid.
No one wins when the service of veterans are bastardized. You need not look any further than what happened to Pat Tillman and his family. His fate was covered up so he could be used as a figure of public adoration and his family was lied to. No one should suffer through that, no one should even have to deal with a small fraction of that pain.
So this Veteran’s Day, when your favorite teams try to tell you how much they care and advertisers horn their way into the patriotism swell. Please try to remember, while that may be a great moment for that particular veteran or group of military personnel. It could just as easily be a rouse.
There are more veterans who need help whether it’s due to physical, mental, or emotional adversity and that money could be used to help them, not Toyota or wealthy team owners.
There are ways to honor veterans if they want to be honored, but above all else one thing should always be made clear.
Veterans are not props.
Editors note: The following article is based on facts provided by the linked paid patriotism report. The opinions expressed by the author are not the opinions of the site or the FanSided network. I would like to note that while I do not know the reasons money was accepted by the Dolphins I can say by first hand account that the Miami Dolphins spend a lot of money to honor our military and their families. I do not have much contact with other NFL teams like I do with the Dolphins and the organization has taken an extraordinary amount of pride in what they do for our veterans and active duty military. Often going well beyond the expected at their own costs with no reimbursment from the NFL or the Dept. of Defense. It should also be noted here that the Dolphins did not request money from the DOD but instead were offered amounts as part of a DOD marketing campaign. This does not make the use of taxpayer money acceptable but it needs to be reiterated that these are not fees being charged by teams but instead being offered by the DOD. Finally, in regards to giving back to the community, the Miami Dolphins Special Teams is one of South Florida’s premier charity branches. The Miami Dolphins spend thousands of dollars on charitable events that directly go back into the community.
Author’s Note: Much of the initially published article was altered, not due to error, but in order to fit with the new direction of the story.