Military Displays at Dallas Sporting Events Were Paid Ads

Attend any pro sports event in Dallas, and you'll be overwhelmed by patriotism. There's red, white and blue everywhere, the national anthem gets sung with gusto and, if you're at a Rangers game on the weekends, they'll wheel out "God Bless America" for the seventh-inning stretch. There are color guards and military flyovers before the big games. There's a good chance George W. Bush will be in the front row, too, especially at Globe Life Park.

Over the last decade or so, the fervor has gotten even more intense. Rangers and FC Dallas fans have seen multiple military enlistment ceremonies, and recognition of soldiers, airmen or seamen in the crowd always brings a standing ovation. If one is at all conflicted about the role of the United States and its military in the world, the whole spectacle can bring on ambivalence. New information released in a joint report from Arizona's two U.S. senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, about how the military ceremonies come about is likely to make those feelings deeper still. 

As it turns out, huge numbers of teams in each of the United States' five major professional sports leagues have taken cash from the military to stage the tricolored extravaganzas. The local teams in each of the leagues — the Cowboys, Rangers, Stars, Mavericks and FC Dallas — got in on the action, taking cash for everything from the aforementioned enlistment ceremonies to military members singing the "Star-Spangled Banner." The senators have proposed an amendment to the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act to end any taxpayer-funded "paid patriotism" at sporting events and, in response, they say the Department of Defense has banned the practice. That doesn't mean their work stopping the displays is over though, McCain and Flake announced Wednesday.

"Despite our success curbing this inappropriate use of taxpayer funds, DOD still cannot fully account for the nature and extent of paid patriotism activities. In fact, more than a third of the contracts highlighted in this report were not included in DOD’s list; instead, our offices discovered the additional contracts through our own investigative work. In the end, two-thirds of the contracts found by our offices or reported by DOD contained some form of paid patriotism," they say.

In a letter and memo responding to the senators' report, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told McCain and Flake that his teams would no longer be allowed to make patriotism a commercial transaction.

Speaking at the White House on Tuesday, presidential press secretary Josh Earnest said that no matter the motivations of the teams hosting the events, fan reaction to them was real.

"The fans who are taking off their caps and offering a standing ovation do so not because of a financial interest but because of their genuine appreciation for those soldiers or veterans who are being honored at the stadium,” he said.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young