In a congressional oversight report released on Wednesday, Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake implicated the Department of Defense (DOD) in paying out $6.8 million of taxpayer money to over 50 professional sports teams in exchange for "patriotic events" such as honoring military members, on-field enlistment ceremonies, and other displays tied to military service.
The Houston Dynamo are one of eight MLS teams shown to have received a portion of the DOD funds in exchange for military displays. The report lists a "taxpayer cost" of $15,000 for "perks" that include a color guard ceremony and a national anthem performance by a member of the Texas Air National Guard, dating back to the 2013 season.
The Senators' position on the issue is that the use of the money constitutes an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds and insinuates that the failure to disclose this use to fans in attendance "betrays the sentiment and trust of fans, [and] casts an unfortunate shadow over the genuine patriotic partnerships that do so much for our troops."
Haley Carter, a Houston Dash goalkeeper and former Marine that served in Iraq, sees it differently than the esteemed Senators:
"We need to stop having romantic notions of sports organizations... I think people who are upset by this are upset because they feel misled. It's only misleading if you forget that sports organizations are a business - a business that is trying to make money.
The money that the military is paying is coming from their marketing budgets. They have huge marketing budgets and it is a great way to recruit. The return that they get for those 'marketing' events is much greater than if they are spending that money on lanyards or key chains or some other silly giveaway... Production companies don't film commercials for the Marines for free nor do they air on TV for free. Those are also bought and paid for. This is just another form of that."
Chris Canetti, president of the Dash and Dynamo, feels like the DOD funds are irrelevant to why the larger organization conducts these displays.
"We honor those veterans because it's the right thing to do. We would do that until the end of time," Canetti said. "This is tied to the Brad's Brigade campaign. Brad does this out of his heart. We've donated thousands of tickets to military personnel over the years and we do military appreciation night for the Dynamo and the Dash."
In response to the oversight report, the DOD has banned "paid patriotism" and the largest league implicated, the NFL, has instructed teams to cease accepting payments for "patriotic events". Does this mean that fans may see less of the displays during Houston soccer matches next year?
"The Houston Dynamo will do that until the end of time with or without any sponsorship with anybody," responds Canetti. "It's a tradition, we feel, in our stadium that is good for the community and good for the fans."
For Carter, the idea that the displays "betray" fans or those being honored seems extreme.
"I don't know that any of the veterans or service members involved knew that those opportunities and moments were being paid for. I don't think they stopped to think about it nor do I think they really care that it was tied to sponsorship money. Personally, I wouldn't and don't care. It doesn't diminish being honored in the moment."