Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Just in time for Veterans Day.

I’m not a big fan of the military shout-out that most sporting events seem to come equipped with these days. Sergeant Joe Blow/Jane Doe is introduced, and the crowd has to give him/her a standing ovation for being a “hero”. To me, these bits don’t really honor a member of the military (not all of whom, by the way, are heroes: I like to reserve that word for those who actually do something heroic – like the guys who took down the terrorist on the European train a couple of months back). No, to me all this fawning is just a simplistic and crude trade-off that we as Americans have decided to make.

Hey, we can get into all sorts of foreign entanglements and misadventures, but we don’t have to worry about our own asses being shot off. Instead, we let those who serve bask in some occasional limelight, hoping, I guess that they won’t notice that, these days, they’re generally being ask to serve in a messy war that no one really understands and – if they manage to survive – many of them will come back with all sorts of terrible damage to their bodies and/or psyches.

Personally, I think that the best way we can honor service members is to make sure we don’t deploy them in ill-thought-out, no-win wars, and, once they’re veterans, provide them with the medical, educational, and other support they need to get back on their feet.

Still, I suspect that these “Honor Sergeant Blow” moments will continue.

Much as I dislike them, what I hadn’t realized that many of the salute the troops events we see at games aren’t just some hokey thing dreamed up by a team or a league as a cheap feel-good. No, they’re doing it – bless their patriotic little hearts  – because they’re being paid to do it. As, just in time for Veterans Day, we have recently learned.

Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake began looking into the Defense Department’s spending of taxpayer dollars on military tributes in June after they discovered the New Jersey Army National Guard paid the New York Jets $115,000 to recognize soldiers at home games.

The 145-page report released Wednesday dives deeper, revealing that 72 of the 122 professional sports contracts analyzed contained items deemed “paid patriotism” -- the payment of taxpayer or Defense funds to teams in exchange for tributes like NFL’s “Salute to Service.” Honors paid for by the DOD were found not only in the NFL, but also the NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS. They included on-field color guard ceremonies, performances of the national anthem, and ceremonial first pitches and puck drops. (Source: Huffington Post.)

Some of the $53 million that the Department of Defense spent with sports teams over the last several years included plenty of “legitimate” marketing. Recruiting is tough these days. I read recently that most branches of the service are having a hard time filling their numbers – even while the military is downsizing. With an improving economy, there are fewer potential recruits in the pool, and a lot of what’s left in the pool can’t pass the physical and intellectual requirements. So they’ve got to advertise. I get that. (“There’s strong; and then there’s Army strong.” “The few, the proud, the Marines.”) It’s the $6.8 million that went to paid tributes to pay tribute that I find pretty obnoxious.

Most of it went to the NFL. No surprise there, given how football has always used the metaphor for war, and has generally been pretty militaristic in terms of its image. But while the connection is pretty obvious, it’s not as if those guys needed another money-making opportunity.

The NFL – all about the “integrity” (ho, ho) of “the brand”, of course – has claimed that the picture about the relationship between the NFL and our military has been “distorted.”

Not that I don’t trust Roger Goodell and his minions, but: I’ll. Just. Bet.

Asked if soldiers knew the Pentagon had paid teams for these sorts of tributes, McCain said: "I've only talked to a few of them, but the ones we did talk to, obviously they did not know."

And they’re not so thrilled when they find out.

The Pentagon is apparently phasing out the paid patriotism programs.


Now if only we can get the sports teams to do something a little less knee-jerk – and a little more meaningful – to support service members than the ubiquitous ‘how about a standing o for Sergeant Doe.’

I’m all for “Salute the Navy” (or whatever branch) nights when members of a particular service, and vets, are asked to stand while Anchors Away is played . But have the 50-50 raffle that game go to a Veterans’ Shelter.

Have games where active service members and their families attend for free. Then announce a donation to a scholarship fund for military kids.

Ask ticket holders who aren’t using their tickets to provide them for free to service members. (Some teams, I know, already do this.)

And do it because, for whatever reason (patriotism, pandering) you feel it’s the right thing to do. Not because you’re being paid to do it.

Meanwhile, Happy Veterans Day.

For a less teeth-gnashing Veterans Day post, here’s what I had to say in 2012.

Finally, Pink Slip would like to end with an unpaid salute to our veterans, especially the remaining WWII vets – including my mother’s best friend, Ethel, who was a WAVE. Ethel was, like my mother, a big city girl – Ethel from NYC, my mother from Chicago – who met and married her Main South Irish guy during the war. And thus ended up in Worcester, Massachusetts, rather than a glamorous metro like NYC or Chicago. Not all war is about death and dying. As it was for my mother’s friend Ethel, it’s also about love, marriage and the baby carriage. So it goes…

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