minnesotawildYou might not know this, but many of the moments you have seen during sporting events in recent years involving troops and the U.S. military amount to advertisements paid for by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Freedom, as it turns out, isn’t free.

Reporting on this practice — payments for tearful reunions and Jumbotron moments — seemingly reached its peak about six months ago and was focused primarily on the practice as it pertains to NFL games, where the Pentagon reportedly spent more than $5 million.

When that news came to light, members of U.S. Congress, including noted veteran John McCain, sought to put an end to the practice and dug into just how much money was changing hands and between which teams.

Per Deadspin, which has the full report on the spending via this post, McCain and co. found 122 contracts between the DOD and pro teams in the United States. Much of the spending, still, related to the NFL. But there was a very interesting team that cracked the top 10: the Minnesota Wild.

Your local NHL franchise was No. 4 overall and is the only NHL team in the top 10 of list heavy with NFL teams. The Senate report covered the last four years; the Wild has been paid $570,000 by the Department of Defense during that time.

The troubling aspect of these paid tributes is that they are not advertised as such. Per the report from McCain and co., which is called “Tackling Paid Patriotism,” via Deadspin:

Unsuspecting audience members became the subjects of paid-marketing campaigns rather than simply bearing witness to teams’ authentic, voluntary shows of support for the brave men and women who wear our nation’s uniform … [I]t 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.”

It sounds as though the practice could be coming to a close thanks to the attention being called to it. And for good reason.

When you see a beer ad, you know you’re being sold something. When you see a military tribute, that’s not your first instinct.

UPDATE:Colonel Kevin Olson, Spokesman for the Minnesota National Guard, provided a statement seeking to add context to this post from the Guard’s perspective. It reads, in part:

The Minnesota National Guard paid partnership with the Minnesota Wild has always been part of a coordinated, multi-faceted and deliberate effort to ensure that the state and nation had a fully-staffed, competent and ready force trained to serve when called.

Sports marketing introduces the National Guard to men and women who are likely to exhibit traits desirable in the military, such as physical fitness, dedication and appreciation for team work.

Aside from the paid advertising partnership, the Minnesota National Guard also has a strong unpaid community relations association with the Minnesota Wild. The Minnesota Wild — and all of the professional sports teams in Minnesota — have demonstrated that they are sincere in their support of our state’s service members, veterans and military veterans.”

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