By: Taylor Zachary ~Staff Writer~
The Department of Defense (DOD) paid $6.8 million in taxpayer money and Defense funds to professional sports teams to “fund patriotism,” according to a 2016 Senate report.
When Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake began looking into Defense spending on military tributes, they found that the New Jersey Army National Guard paid the New York Jets $377,000 over four years. In any given season, the Jets received an average of $115,000 to simply recognize soldiers during time-outs and half-time performances.
The report also indicated that, from 2011 to 2014, the Atlanta Falcons collected just over a million dollars for similar patriotic performances, the most cash of any NFL team. Similarly, the Green Bay Packers received the single largest payment of $400,000.
In sum, 50 teams from across the five major professional leagues contracted with the Department of Defense, including 18 NFL teams that received over $5.6 million over a four-year span. Ten MLB teams received just short of a million dollars, and eight teams from both the NBA and Major League Soccer had similar contracts. Six NHL teams received money, and the Air Force paid more than $1.5 million to NASCAR.
Collegiate programs also benefitted from military contracts. According to the report, Purdue University and Indiana University received a total of $400,000 from the Indiana Army National Guard in 2014.
These large sums of money come as rewards for many forms of public patriotism such as performing the national anthem before a game, ceremonial first pitches and recognizing men and women of service during timeouts and half-time performances.
On advertising and marketing alone, the DOD spends an average of $13.25 million a year, contracting with collegiate and professional teams across the country.
But, why do the DOD and other military departments find it necessary to purchase patriotism?
To examine this question, one might point to the significance of Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick first knelt during the national anthem in protest of the symbolism and hypocrisy of our national flag. Kaepernick initially did what Black athletes often fail to do: control the narrative.
When asked why he knelt, he said, “there are dead bodies in the street and people [officers] getting paid leave and getting away with murder…I’m not anti-American. I love America. I love people. That’s why I’m doing this. I want to help make America better.”
Throughout the entire NFL season, Kaepernick stayed true to his message and never turned down an opportunity to define his protest to the public.
Despite efforts made to control the narrative of his protest, his actions were interpreted by some fans as a jab at the United States Armed Forces and “the good men and women who protect our freedoms.” I put the latter phrase in quotes because supporting the military is a complex commitment. In the context of Kaepernick’s message, when there are bodies lying in the street at the hands of militarized officers or when the National Guard drives tanks and shoots tear gas in the Black neighborhoods of Ferguson and Baltimore, is it just to credit the military for securing our freedoms?
Even if these freedoms truly did apply to all American citizens, what good is a self-righteous liberty secured through militarized imperialism, international occupation and the genocide of Black and Brown people [read: War on Terror]?
Nevertheless, I wonder if reactions from fans would have been less strong if there was no tangible connection between military based performances and athletic events. Considering the millions of tax payer dollars spent on advertising, marketing and normalizing the heroic image of our military. Maybe the conversation is psychological. Maybe it is not. Internationally, considering the political and economic implications of the Olympics, maybe the conversation is based on power. Maybe it is not.
Any discussion on the links between patriotism and the NFL is incomplete without appreciating the political juxtaposition of Colin Kaepernick and Tom Brady. The Patriots quarterback and his infamous head coach, Bill Belichick, joined ranks with white nationalist and KKK members when they publicly endorsed the prospect of a Trump presidency. During the Super Bowl, I understood a Brady win as a Trump win.
Despite urges to embrace defeat, I found strength in the example of Colin Kaepernick. Struggling against White supremacy, struggling against neoliberal fascism, struggling against Islamophobia and homophobia, struggling for indigenous liberation and struggling against a political empire that purchases the patriotism of its citizen is a subversive commitment. So long as we resist, we are not defeated.
Freedom is, and always will be, a constant struggle.