One hand over heart; other over pocketbook

Who hasn’t got a lump in their throat with the Colts’ frequent salutes to the U.S. Army and Army National Guard? Hometown heroes, the story goes, being saluted by your hometown football team.

This less-than-genuine patriotic moment is bought and paid for with your tax dollars.

Oh say can you see the money changing hands?

That will be the tagline going forward on every pro sports event that invokes some salute to the U.S. military. Remind us that this seemingly spontaneous moment of honor for those who fight for this country is the product of cold hard cash.

The Colts are one of many NFL teams (16 in all) that entered into contracts with divisions of the Armed Forces for such promotions totaling more than $6 million the past four seasons. A review of Department of Defense contracts shows Indianapolis has made $620,000 from such marketing deals.

Is it wrong? No, not from a legal perspective. The Army is no different from Verizon or Ray’s Trash Service for the Colts; just another way to make money.

It may not be wrong, but it is far from right.

“Those of us go to sporting events and see them honoring the heroes,” said Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who first pointed out the questionable spending earlier this month. “You get a good feeling in your heart. Then to find out they’re doing it because they’re compensated for it; it leaves you underwhelmed. It seems a little unseemly.”

Yes, Senator, it does on two levels.

First, the idea that the patriotic salutes are simply paid advertising masquerading as civic responsibility is disturbing. Both the Colts and military conveniently ignore that this patriotic tug is really just an attempt to sell something; in this case, that something is enlistment.

This is no different that urging fans to sign up for satellite TV, reach for certain beer or buy a new pickup trick, as Colts’ in-game ads do. The difference is that those clearly appear as marketing. The military “ads” are much more subtle and play — perhaps unfairly — on fans’ sense of nationalism.

There is a second concern here, as pointed out by the Senator.

Flake said there was nothing wrong with the Guard using football games to recruit soldiers. The problem, he told, was spending taxpayer money on a program that, on its face, appeared to be a generous gesture by a football team.

“We need to recruit and what better place to find young men and women than at a ballgame?” Flake said. “But when the team is honoring the heroes, that’s the action I think rubs people the wrong way.”

There is indeed an irony in publicly funding Lucas Oil Stadium with tax dollars and then spending tax dollars to advertise in it as well. How many ways can the Colts get money out of their taxpaying fans?

The focus has been on the NFL, but military recruiting via sports goes far deeper.

The Indianapolis Indians’ Armed Forces Day on Saturday, in which players wore camo jerseys and the Guard sponsored various activities, is a another pay-for-goodwill arrangement.

“We do not publicly disclose financial terms of any of our community and corporate partnerships,” Tribe Media Relations Coordinator Chris Robinson told the Daily Journal. “However, the Indiana National Guard partners with us on various events and games throughout our season to assist them in reaching their target recruiting populations.

“These events include the Victory Field Classic (high school baseball games), Armed Forces Day and our Fourth of July game. In addition, specialty jerseys worn on field on Armed Forces Day and July 4 are auctioned to raise funds for Indiana National Guard scholarships and for the Indiana National Guard Relief Fund.”

While the Indians’ forthcoming disclosure is commendable, you wonder if the long-term benefits of the marketing/recruiting effort have reached a tipping point.

For this fan, it has.

The next time a patriotic display for my local military heroes is paraded at a sporting event, I will rise in appreciation for all that has been sacrificed.

At the same time, though, that lump in my throat will be joined by an air of distrust of how such a salute came about.

While one hand will be over my heart, the other will be on my wallet.

At a glance

Paid patriotism

Department of Defense contracts show that the Indianapolis Colts received $620,000 from 2011 through 2014 in marketing payments from the U.S. Army and Air Force.




Air Force;$20,000;9/19/12


Source: Department of Defense contracts W912L914P0144, W912L912P0122, FA448412P0145 and W912L911P0070.

Author photo
Bob Johnson is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal.