LAST WEEK WE learned that the Department of Defense shelled out millions for "paid patriotism" displays at sporting events over the past four years, most of it to NFL teams. You can certainly understand why the military wants to be associated with the NFL, which has enjoyed such great public relations lately. But the Department of Defense's biggest windfall, for $879,000, went to the Falcons, which reminds me of a fun trivia question:
Q. Who had the worst defense in the NFL last year?
A. The Falcons.
After Atlanta, the DOD paid the most to the Patriots: $700,000, though I assume that is nothing compared with what New England gets from the CIA. Some would call this wasteful government spending, but we know that the billionaires who own NFL teams would never worry about that kind of thing. You know the old saying: God, family and country, and good luck getting the first two to pay for anything.
As somebody who has stood and applauded troops at games, I was surprised to learn that those on-field tributes were nothing more than simple business transactions. I was also surprised NFL executives did not try to get a higher bid from another country's military. In response to the controversy, commissioner Roger Goodell has promised to reimburse the government for any "inappropriate payments." The word inappropriate gives Goodell enough wiggle room to do the electric slide with the owners of all 32 teams, their lawyers and their butlers. But let's assume the league returns all the money. How will it make up the lost revenue? I humbly suggest playing more games in London, and also billing oncologists for all those pink towels and wristbands promoting breast cancer awareness. I know that last one may seem a bit crass, but there are defensive ends to pay and profit goals to reach. Together, we make money.
The NFL was certainly not the only league to take military money; 10 teams in MLB, eight in the NBA and six in the NHL also were paid. The NFL was just the biggest pig at the trough. Anyway, professional teams' contracts with the military are not even the strangest sponsorship agreements in sports. For many years, our state universities have paid for players to wear their school colors, in an arrangement often referred to as "college football." How do you explain that?
Perhaps this paid patriotism is the start of a trend. With that underwriting program out in the open, why stop there? Think of the possibilities: Teams could collect canned-food donations for the homeless, sell a third of the items for profit, donate the other two thirds to those in need, then take the empties back and charge the Sierra Club to recycle them. Ask not what you can do for the environment; ask what the environment can do for you. Also, teams often get police escorts to games, and until now police have not paid for the privilege. How many fans would love (read: pay) to join the caravan, speeding on the highway, lights flashing, next to a real-life NFL team?
General George Patton once said, "A pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood," but why take his word for it? Let's make sure we have enough blood by starting blood drives at every major arena: $14 a pint—surely if you can afford to lose a pint of blood, you won't mind parting with $14. In exchange you'll get a souvenir cup with your favorite team's logo and the words I GAVE BLOOD on it, for an extra $12. It will impress your friends and neighbors, who probably also have veins.
This might all seem silly, disgusting or pointless. You might think that the Pentagon could have simply asked publicly for teams to honor their troops for free. Would teams really have said no?
Fair question, but I refuse to ask it. I think pro teams should cash in all day, starting with "The Star-Spangled Banner." I applaud the financial efforts of our fine franchise owners—none of whom paid me to write that last sentence, as far as you know.
What's more surprising: that the defense department paid for patriotic displays, or that the NFL didn't try to get a higher bid from another country's military?
What's the worst in-stadium marketing campaign you've seen? Join the discussion on Twitter by using #SIPointAfter and following @Rosenberg_Mike
CARLOS M. SAAVEDRA FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED