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"Paid patriotism" report cuts close to home at Chase Field

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Local senators Jeff Flake and John McCain have been at the front of recent criticism of how the Department of Defense paid pro sports teams for patriotic displays. The Diamondbacks were one of the teams that benefited.

According to the report, the Department of Defense spent $53 million on marketing and advertising contracts with teams in the five major professional sports leagues, over the four years from 2012-2015. While the National Football League received much of the money, there were also payments made to teams in MLB, the NBA, NHL, and MLS - I guess the WNBA wasn't deemed worth funding. These paid tributes, says the report, "included on-field color guard, enlistment and reenlistment ceremonies, performances of the national anthem, full-field flag details, ceremonial first pitches and puck drops." While acknowledging some spending is legitimate, McCain and Flake say

It is hard to understand how a team accepting taxpayer funds to sponsor a military appreciation game, or to recognize wounded warriors or returning troops, can be construed as anything other than paid patriotism. Given the immense sacrifices made by our service members, it seems more appropriate that any organization with a genuine interest in honoring them, and deriving public credit as a result, should do so at its own expense and not at that of the American taxpayer.

Ouch. That'll leave a mark. While the other local teams, the Coyotes, Cardinals and Suns were not mentioned in the report as recipients of DoD money, the same is unfortunately not true for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Fiscal year 2014 saw the franchise receive $40,000 - admittedly, that's a small sum in comparison to some. The Atlanta Braves, for example, received more than ten times as much, over three years, getting $450,000 for multiple "miltary appreciation" games. [I am, however, pleased to note that the Padres, who seem to honor the military on any day ending in a Y, were apparently not doing so for compensation]

For their forty grand, the Defense Department received an on-field AZARNG (Arizona Air Reserve National Guard) oath ceremony, color guard demonstration, scorecard delivery, and 20 game entry vouchers for two Diamondbacks home games,. as well as an AZARNG soldier delivering the first pitch before the Sept. 17 game. Hard to say if that's good value for money. In a statement issued earlier this week, the team responded to the news: "In 2014, the Army National Guard approached us to find a way to increase its enlistment and we provided numerous visible marketing tactics to help them accomplish that goal. It was a two-month program that has since been discontinued."

I can somewhat understand the Senators' ire, not least because the DoD's book-keeping seems to have been woefully inadequate, with only 62% of the contracts in the report having been reported by the government organization in response to the request for details. I do accept that $40,000 is small beer as well; pretty sure we paid about that per Bronson Arroyo inning. But it is another example of the rather unfortunate blurring of the lines between advertising, commerce, government and the armed forces, which we see all the time. Look no further than, say, Budweiser's shameless appropriation of such themes to promote their shitty product.

There is certainly a spot for acknowledgment of the military - but,. yes, if this is being done on a commercial basis rather than as a purely charitable and social endeavor, I think it needs to be acknowledged. I mean, it's clear enough that when an employee of William's Widgets throws out the first pitch, this is probably happening as a result of the company cutting the franchise a check, not out of the goodness of the team's heart. But it's a lot harder when the lines get blurred between charity and advertising, especially because there ARE teams like the Padres who do this kind of thing for free.

It's also bad, because it detracts from the very genuine and ongoing efforts of the Diamondbacks in the area of charity and community effort. This does appear to have been a one-off thing, rather than the long program indulged in by some teams. But you don't have to be an undiluted cynic, for the next time you see any event honoring armed forces, to wonder how much it is honest appreciation, and how much paid advertising - even though the Pentagon sent out a memo in September blocking further contracts. Trust in such things, once lost, is hard to regain.

I've always been a strong opponent of any public funds being funneled to pro sports - that's particularly the case with regard to facilities, but this is not too dissimilar, with the "benefit" to the public as a result of their contribution being equally murky and hard to see. Is seeing a member of the Air National Guard, throwing out the first pitch at Chase Field, really the best way to encourage recruitment? I'm inclined to doubt it, and that alone seems as good a reason as any other to turn off the programs.