NFL patriotism for profit
© Getty Images

Remember that great movie where the hunky man and beautiful woman seemed destined to be together until circumstances tore them asunder? But, when all seemed lost, they found their way back to each other? Love reigned triumphant. Hearts swelled to their popping points with rainbows and unicorns.

What if I told you that movie wasn't about the triumphant nature of love at all? It was really about a gaggle of rich Hollywood folks lining their already well-lined pockets! Would it cheapen that feeling? Erase it entirely?


It would for Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who sponsored an amendment blocking the Pentagon from spending taxpayer funds to honor American troops at sporting events. After all, this isn't Hollywood money that's being spent on these ceremonies; this is the most sacred of all money: taxpayer money.

That's right — when you're watching the armed forces being honored before your favorite team plays, you're watching a commercial paid for by the Department of Defense (DOD).

Gut reaction: We've all been duped! Propagandized! Evil owners are profiting off our men and women in uniform!

Take one of those deep yoga breaths. Let reason seep in, and realize that this isn't seedy, scandalous or even newsworthy.

If those ceremonies made you feel pride in our military men and women, the money exchanged shouldn't cheapen it. That feeling is real. They're not making up stories about heroic acts that never happened or reuniting child actors with fake soldier parents. Those are the real men and women who've served honorably for our country.

McCain said of the practice, "I and so many other Americans were shocked and disappointed to learn that several NFL teams weren't sponsoring these activities out of the goodness of their own hearts."

Those "Army Strong" commercials that play during timeouts and after touchdowns — those are paid for, too. Should networks run them out of the goodness of their hearts? The U.S. armed forces have been running marketing campaigns since Uncle Sam first pointed from a poster.

My favorite team, the Atlanta Falcons, were paid the most of any team — over a $1 million from 2011 to 2014.

The fact that the DOD pays for this marketing doesn't mean Falcons owner Arthur Blank isn't patriotic. If he weren't, he wouldn't parade out the military heroes and the giant flag for a measly $1 million over four years. Wake up and smell the billions. The man could spend his days swimming around in a money bin of Scrooge McDuck proportions if he chose to. But unlike Scrooge McDuck, Blank is a philanthropic hero. The Arthur Blank Family Foundation has granted money to numerous organizations, including the Veterans Voices Oral History Project and the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. He even took the billionaire's pledge to give the majority of his wealth to charitable organizations.

Here's the bottom line: The Department of Defense doesn't need free advertising. They have deeper pockets than any other government institution — not to mention more money than even Blank could dream of — and these honoring ceremonies are a good use of a tiny bit of their marketing budget. The DOD has deep pockets to the tune of about $500 billion for fiscal year 2015.

The organizations Blank gives to don't have deep pockets. They don't draw from an endless well of taxpayer money. They are the Boys and Girls Club, the GENYouth Foundation and pretty much every culture-providing institution in the city of Atlanta. And he's giving at a rate far higher than $250,000 a year.

Blank has done more for Atlanta and the U.S. than most Americans will ever have the resources to do in their entire lives, and the same is true about most NFL owners. I could have continued to enjoy the honoring ceremonies knowing they were paid for by the DOD. There's no reason not to, because those feelings the ceremonies stir are not about the NFL, the owners or the Department of Defense; they're not about budgets or advertising dollars. They are about the men and women who sacrifice of themselves for love of country. Whatever the DOD pays to publicly honor those men and women, it's worth it. If you hold an award ceremony, you pay for the venue, and the transaction doesn't make anyone unpatriotic.

Where does the outrage over "paying for patriotism" end? Should the Home Depot profit off selling American flags? Should networks get paid for running Army Strong commercials?

This is just a cheap way to score political points.

Zipperer is a published, award-winning playwright and an adjunct English professor at Georgia College.