During Monday’s broadcast of ESPN2 Olbermann, host Keith Olbermann heavily criticized the National Football League and other professional sports organizations for their “pre-paid patriotism” after it had been reported that the National Guard had paid NFL teams millions over the past few years to honor soldiers. Since 2011, the National Guard has reached sponsorship deals with 14 NFL teams, paying the franchises $5.4 million over that period so that they would hold pre-game ceremonies and other events celebrating “Hometown Heroes,” members of the National Guard from the area that served overseas.
The issue was brought to light by Se. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), whose office had been searching for wastes of money that could be ended to save the government money. Flake noticed the New York Jets had been paid by the National Guard for the “Hometown Heroes” program and decided to bring it up to the Department of Defense. Due to Flake’s involvement, news organizations did more snooping and found the National Guard had paid other teams to ‘honor’ veterans and soldiers in front of fans. The National Guard had previously been criticized for the vast amounts of money it spent sponsoring NASCAR drivers while simultaneously claiming a $100 million shortfall.
For Olbermann, his main problem with the recent news isn’t so much that the National Guard had spent money to help its recruitment — their main defense of the sponsorship deals — but the cynical and secretive nature the NFL went about in observing the soldiers in front of fans. As the former MSNBC political commentator noted, fans were under the impression that their teams were commemorating veterans’ achievements and sacrifices out of a sense of altruism and patriotism. Instead, they were taking money to honor soldiers and pretending it was out of love of country.
At the end of the segment, after providing all of the pertinent facts of the story, Olbermann unleashed a righteously indignant rant.
If this time, our time, is one in which the country is pro-military, and if that is reflected at sporting events, so be it. But for that sense for where the nation is regarding sending our citizens in harm’s way — for or against — for that to be secretly tampered with by the government, by the Defense Department, using your money to purchase public sentiment and pay off the NFL, MLB, NBA, the HIGH SCHOOLS, and all the rest to influence that, that is intolerable! And it is dishonest! It is dishonest in an area where honesty is the only acceptable policy. As dishonest as if the LA clubs never revealed that they are paid nearly $6 million to call it Staples Center and instead insisted that they did so out of admiration for the company.
It is the ultimate dishonesty, and it is cynical and wasteful, and it is exploitative of fans. Indeed, exploitative of American society itself. And most heartbreakingly, it is a slap in the face to every member of the United States military that ever stood up and waved to the crowd while it cheered back. The patriotic frills are only there because the team was paid by the government to put them there. The soldier’s only there because the Pentagon is using him as a tool to recruit more soldiers. The fans are only there because of this corrupt transaction they didn’t even know they paid for.
Alone in this equation, blameless and sincere, is that American soldier. And we are repaying him or her not with genuine applause but with vast, unseen, unacknowledged, manipulations, in which he or she is just a pawn.
Below is video of the segment, courtesy of ESPN: