The practice of ‘paid patriotism’ is unethical

Sean Kennedy

Any consumer in today’s marketplace knows that advertisers like to play to an audience’s emotions in order to get them to buy products or support certain causes. However, this practice of emotional manipulation can sometimes be taken too far.

Recently, news surfaced from a Congressional report that the Department of Defense has been paying millions to sports teams for military tribute and patriotism events during games. According to the report, the Pentagon has spent over $9 million on these type of deals with athletic teams, with clubs such as the New England Patriots, Minnesota Wild and Atlanta Braves receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for displays ranging from military-family reunions to instances as small as displaying soldiers on jumbotrons for applause. While the amount of money in question is still merely a relative drop in the bucket for both the Pentagon and the athletic clubs involved in the deals, this practice of “paid patriotism,” so to speak, is still highly unethical and should be banned from happening in the future.


This issue of paid patriotism is very disconcerting because of how willfully taxpayer money was exchanged between the Defense Department and sports teams. It is entirely wrong for the Pentagon to use public money in order to push their propaganda onto captive audiences at sports games, and they honestly shouldn’t be allowed to advertise publicly at all. Some might say that this argument is making a mountain out of a molehill, but consider what these paid deals are, removed from their context: An agency of the federal government, who has a very recent history of engaging in activity that borders on terrorism, has been using taxpayer money to buy time with a captive public audience in order to reinforce support for their actions and recruit others to lend support to their inherently violent activities.

Even if you disagree with this characterization of military activity, consider this: Have you ever seen similarly-sized displays at sports events for any other businesses? The small amount of marketing activity that does go on at sports games are usually brief, giveaway-type events that occur during times between game action when they aren’t intended to be the dominant point of attention. The level of attention given to military personnel during these instances of paid patriotism goes above and beyond what is typically granted to anyone else, and it’s wrong to use taxpayer money to gain this extra privilege.

That being said, there are at least two sides to any issue, and it’s just as wrong for these sports teams to have taken public money for these patriotic displays. There is nothing wrong with a sports team allocating time to honoring veterans in good faith, but doing so in exchange for money is a slap in the face to anyone honored by that event. Many who choose to join the military do so because they have been raised to believe, or learn to believe, that is the absolute best way they can serve their communities, and despite the Pentagon’s shaky human rights record and questionable actions, these soldiers and veterans deserve to be respected for doing what they think is most right (even if it’s very wrong).

Exchanging money for what should be good-faith recognition of veterans is an ethical failure on the part of Pentagon officials and the sports teams that have taken the cash. The fact that the money involved was federal tax dollars makes paid patriotism even more egregious, and should make the banning of the practice even swifter.

Collegian Senior Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at or on Twitter @seanskenn.