Based on the attention surrounding kneeling demonstrations performed by NFL players during the playing of the U.S. national anthem, it’s forgivable to think that the NFL athletes have stood at attention for the Spar-Spangled Banner” for as long as the game has been played.
The move to sit during the anthem was started by Colin Kaepernick last year. It has evolved into more than 200 players taking a knee before yesterday’s games and is a break with a rather short-lived custom for the league.
In truth, the heroes of “America’s game” have only been mandated to take to the sidelines for the anthem since 2009.
Some teams had previously joined fans for the singing of the anthem, but the patriotic act was never mandatory.
“The NFL has a long tradition of patriotism. Players are encouraged but not required to stand for the anthem,” NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy confirmed to NBC’s Comcast SportsNet last year.
Since being institutionalized, NFL anthem celebrations have become politicized and often militarized, due in large part to millions of taxpayer dollars spent by the U.S. Department of Defence (DOD) to promote the armed forces.
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A 2015 joint oversight report by Arizona Republican senators John Flake and John McCain, entitled Tackling Paid Patriotism, revealed that between 2012 and 2015, the DOD spent $53 million on professional sports contracts, which included in-stadium signage and other branded content.
Of that, the report found $6.8 million of the money given to professional sports leagues, including the NHL, was spent on “inappropriate” patriotic displays aimed at recruiting service members.
“Americans deserve the ability to assume that tributes for our men and women in military uniform are genuine displays of national pride, which many are, rather than taxpayer-funded DOD marketing gimmicks,” the report said.
USA Today reported the NFL received $6 million alone to stage “paid patriotism” events, which included military personnel running onto the field with flags to flyovers by Air Force jets.
Of the 122 professional sports contracts analyzed, the report showed the Atlanta Falcons received the greatest amount of money from the Pentagon, totalling $879,000. The New England Patriots were awarded $700,000, while the Buffalo Bills pocketed $650,000.
Beyond the NFL, the Atlanta Braves received $450,000, the most of any Major League Baseball franchise, while the National Hockey League’s Minnesota Wild were paid $570,000.
McCain outlined why “paid patriotism” was a tool for the NFL to use the military to grow its own brand.
“Americans across the country should be deeply disappointed that many of the ceremonies honoring troops at professional sporting events are not actually being conducted out of a sense of patriotism, but for profit in the form of millions in taxpayer dollars going from the Department of Defense to wealthy pro sports franchises,” McCain’s statement read.
“Fans should have confidence that their hometown heroes are being honored because of their honorable military service, not as a marketing ploy,” McCain said.
Since the report became public, the Pentagon has stopped the practice, but told the Washington Post it could not “fully account for the nature and extent of paid patriotism activities.”