It’s not as if the NFL wasn’t already getting its share of black eyes in the media, but a story like this one is particularly painful when it involves the team that you root for. The league is well known for sponsoring a number of charitable events, along with other “non-football” related activities promoting community and national service. One of the most touching – at least for me – is the way that the teams in the league have embraced the military, our veterans and current service members, and paid homage to the sacrifices they make for the nation. The military embraces the league in return, doing flyovers, flag displays and marching bands. It’s all a very good thing.
That’s why it was such a shock to find out that a number of the teams – including the New York Jets – were charging the military for these displays of patriotism.
It all boils down to Gang Greed.
That was how a hero soldier honored by the Jets reacted to news that the team and 13 other NFL franchises were paid by the National Guard and the Department of Defense to salute the troops at home games.
“I think it’s pretty shameful that millionaires and billionaires take money from the service,” Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Waiters told The News.
“It’s just greed,” said Waiters, an Army medic who served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
Waiters spoke a day after a story in The News — which featured him on the cover — revealed that the Department of Defense and the New Jersey National Guard doled out $377,000 to the Jets over the last four seasons to honor military members at MetLife Stadium games.
This was covered – and rightly criticized – in recent New York Daily News opinion piece, THE NEW YORK JETS’ CHEAP INSULT TO MILITARY HEROES. To be clear, the Jets aren’t the only ones involved. Thirteen teams in all have been raking in a total of more than five million dollars between 2011 and 2014 to put on these displays where they honor our troops on the field, allow them to be honorary team captains and receive similar homage. The Jets alone received $377K.
To make matters worse, when confronted about it, a Jets representative tried to justify it as just another business arrangement.
A Jets spokesman defended the deal as an advertising arrangement designed to assist the New Jersey National Guard in recruiting.
“Even though the agreement with the New Jersey National Guard has expired, we will continue to honor members of the military as we did before and during this relationship, including members of the New Jersey National Guard,” said Bruce Speight, a Jets spokesman. “If there are future agreements with the military, we will make it abundantly clear that an advertising relationship exists.”
That’s a horrible answer. And they can’t even claim that it’s standard practice, because while other teams are also involved, the Giants, the Yankees and the Mets all do tributes to the military without accepting a dime. This isn’t to say that the National Guard (or any other branch of the service) couldn’t purchase some normal advertising if they wished. They can buy a billboard or time on one of the electronic signs just like anyone else. (Though offering them a discount wouldn’t be amiss.) But for these big, rousing displays on the field where the troops are brought out in person to be honored, this is simply shameful. To be clear, the investigation is still going on, and Senator Jeff Flake (who uncovered it initially) has said it’s possible that some of the teams are doing the extra, in person honors for free. But in at least some cases, including the Jets, it is spelled out in their contracts that the team will put on these “feel good moments” as part of the billed services.
What the rest of the teams involved in this shameful practice do is up to them and their fans. For me, I can only speak to the Jets. To my team that I’ve been supporting since Broadway Joe was still on the field. And I would address my comments directly to Woody Johnson, the team’s owner.
Here’s what you need to do, Woody. Give the money back. Every. Last. Red. Cent. Of. It. And then go on ESPN and apologize. Even if this was cooked up in the marketing team’s offices and they never mentioned it to you, it’s still your responsibility. Do the right thing. Next, get all of your players together – including the new crop just arriving who are only now cashing their first checks from salaries worth millions – and tell them to all break out their checkbooks. I will be completely incredulous if you try to tell me that they can’t scrape up a million between them. And then break out your own checkbook and toss in another million. (You’re worth over three billion. You can cover it from your annual bar tab.) Take that money and go make a series of donations to help out wounded warriors, returning heroes and homeless veterans. And don’t do a press conference about the donation or run a bunch of ads about what a great bunch of guys you are. Just do it.
Then – and only then – get back to honoring our military at all the games. And do so for free.
This is a disgrace.