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Paid Patriotism scandal touches Sounders, probably shouldn't

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Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake have damning statements about the Department of Defense paying for Military Appreciation Night and other military themed events at NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, college sports, NASCAR and MLS games.

Senator John McCain

At best the Paid Patriotism scandal is a program of million dollar waste combined with sports organizations lying to their fanbases. At worst it is a case of fraudulent affinity for the Armed Forces of the United States of America. The McCain-Flake investigation lays it on thick to start.

In 2013, a roaring crowd cheered as the Atlanta Falcons welcomed 80 National Guard members who unfurled an American flag across the Georgia Dome's turf. Little did those fans—or millions of other Americans—know that the National Guard had actually paid the Atlanta Falcons for this display of patriotism as part of a $315,000 marketing contract.

This unfortunate story is not limited to professional football, but is repeated at other professional and college sporting events around the nation. In fact, these displays of paid patriotism are included within the $6.8 million that the Department of Defense (DOD) has spent on sports marketing contracts since fiscal year 2012.

The very next paragraph includes the LA Galaxy. Page 71 includes the Seattle Sounders, who accepted $128,000 dollars. That could be damning. Seattle hosts numerous enlistment, re-enlistment, family reunion, color guard and military appreciation nights. SeaFair features a huge swath of Navy sailors in the 300s.

But guess what? McCain-Flake's Paid Patriotism investigation has no problem with any of the Seattle Sounders activities named above. What the Sounders did was sell the Washington State Army National Guard advertising time on Soundersvision in three of the last four seasons.

WAARG recognition and a compelling Army National Guard public service message to be played on Soundervision video boards at 19 Sounders home games (FY2012, FY2013, FY2015).

There is a case that could be made that such activities are unethical, but the report does not make that case for every incident it lists.

To be fair, some of what was contracted appears to be legitimate marketing and advertising activities for which we would expect DOD to compensate these teams, such as stadium signs, social media mentions, and booth space for recruiters at games.

On the other hand there are clear cases where Military Appreciation Nights were not done because the teams and/or leagues love the nation and its Armed Forces, but instead they were held because they were able to get cash in their hands.

The lack of oversight in these expenditures and initial absence of information provided by the DoD meant that McCain and Flake needed to conduct their own investigation. That investigation tried to discover all contracts, and not just those revealed. The appendixes of the Paid Patriotism report include several organizations' attempts to dispute the findings.

Sounders FC is not in the appendix, and it did not need to be. Because if you think taking money to host Military Appreciation Night or a re-enlistment ceremony is wrong (and I'm right there with you) Seattle Sounders Football Club did not do that, nor did the Seattle Mariners.

The Seattle Seahawks are in murkier territory. Page 19 says they did do that. They and the NFL responded to the allegations, which makes things a shade of dark grey. Much of what the Seahawks do around veteran relations is honest and genuine, but some of it does cross these blurry lines.

Other organizations did the worst that the report mentions. And then the dozens of teams mentioned within are painted with that sole, dark light. Many should not be. If you want to investigate your favorite, or least favorite team, go to the original findings. Read the section on their league and franchise, read the responses that in the appendixes and make your own decision.

As a veteran, I am completely willing to give the Seattle Sounders a passing grade on their conduct as relates to this, let's call it a B+. They accepted money to advertise for the very National Guard in which I served after my active duty days were done. They are merely sullied because there was a lack of oversight and accountability for the funds that were spent. Hanauer & Co are not to blame for that.