NFL Patriotism May Not Be What You Think

Earlier this week, I wrote about the Texans remaining in the locker room during the national anthem at their game against the Kansas City Chiefs. They faced some backlash for that decision, including fans vowing to boycott games. In doing research for that article, I came across some information that was way more disheartening than the arguments over patriotism at football games.

Because it turns out, patriotism has been monetized all along. Most of us just didn’t know it. 

Did you know that up until 2009, football players did not appear on the field during the national anthem? That’s right. They were in the locker room, just as they were last week. But in 2009, that all changed when the Department of Defense paid a LOT of money for an enormous marketing campaign that promoted patriotism during NFL games.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith explained, “The players were moved to the field during the national anthem because it was seen as a marketing strategy to make the athletes look more patriotic. The United States Department of Defense paid the National Football League $5.4 million between 2011 and 2014, and the National Guard $6.7 million between 2013 and 2015 to stage onfield patriotic ceremonies as part of military-recruitment budget line items.”

This explanation was shared in 2014 and was followed by a 2015 report drafted by Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake. They coined the phrase “paid patriotism” to represent the fact that taxpayer funds were being used for patriotic tributes, including color guards, enlistment ceremonies, performances of the National Anthem, and flag details. They discovered that the National Guard had paid teams to sponsor military appreciation nights, and, perhaps most disconcerting, to perform surprise welcome home promotions for troops returning from deployments. 

Despite what you may think of this practice, it does raise several questions as to whether it really was disrespectful for the Texans to remain in the locker room during the national anthem. It turns out, player observance of the anthem is not a long-standing tradition at all, and much of the patriotism we see on the field is paid for.

However, the national anthem is indeed a very important part of our history, and one that has always demanded that Americans rise to their feet and stand in respect of our country. We at Katy Christian Magazine firmly believe that while the anthem is being played, the athletes – who our country has paid millions to play the game they love – should show respect by standing for the anthem.

The NFL began playing the national anthem before games in the midst of WWII as a way of showing heartfelt support for our troops and love for our country. The tradition continued when in 1945, NFL commissioner Elmer Layden said, “The playing of the national anthem should be as much a part of every game as the kickoff. We must not drop it simply because the war is over. We should never forget what it stands for.”

So while the anthem holds deeply felt meaning in our country’s history, whether or not players need to be on the field for it is a whole different discussion. Once you discover that patriotism has been monetized in the NFL, it’s hard to look at it the same. How can we be outraged about players not participating in something that up until a decade ago, no one even questioned or cared about?

And how can we be anything but outraged when we realize that our patriotism was manipulated by clever marketing techniques?

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Rebecca Becker

Rebecca has been a lifelong writer committed to telling stories that illuminate special people, places, and causes. She writes for local, regional, national, and international publications and is based in Houston. She’s been a lifelong Christian dedicated to bringing that perspective forth and keeping the Christian voice within the larger conversation.