Back in May 2014, as they do every year, the Colorado Rapids held their annual 'Military Appreciation Night' on another one of those beautiful days at DSG Park. Some would say the day was pretty remarkable as the team managed to defeat LA Galaxy 1-0 courtesy of a Marcelo Sarvas goal against his former club.
Before the game, Rapids President Tim Hinchey encouraged Rapids fans to 'celebrate' & 'thank' our armed forces 'for all that they do' in his Matchday Welcome. I have no doubt that a lot of Rapids fans did the decent thing & went up to one of the many military personal present that night & thanked them for their service. Couple that with sponsors CocaCola writing a check for $10k for the USO & a big flag ceremony on the field & you have a recipe for a warm & fuzzy event that will make everyone feel good about the Rapids, the Military & America.
Or so we all thought. This week it was revealed in a report by two Arizona Senators that the Colorado National Guard paid the Rapids $100k in 2014 for 'Three color guard ceremonies' & a 'Cannon fire ceremony' (page 72). The Rapids were the only Colorado sports team to appear in the report & had the largest single year contract of any MLS club.
The report's authors freely admit that as the Department of Defense information they obtained was incomplete & it is therefore possible that other teams in Colorado did the same thing. It is also possible that the Rapids contract included more than what the initial information stated; given the Rapids need no excuse to pad those attendance figures it would not be a surprise if a 100 or so game tickets were included in the deal.
Now what started as an enquiry into government waste by the Senators has thrown up some interesting questions about whether sports teams accepting cash from the Military & convincing their fans to get involved in the events cheapens the whole idea of giving thanks to the brave men & women who serve this country. Certainly the armed forces are a government body, not a charity, & are thus entitled to pay for advertisements to recruit people through a range of mediums including professional sports. I don't think anyone has a problem with that, as with any other piece of advertising at DSG Park, Rapids fans can ignore it if they so please. Likewise, the Rapids can encourage their fans to 'support their sponsors' & the fans can choose whether they heed that message as well.
The point where things start to feel 'wrong' is when the club encourages (& effectively obligates) its fans to participate in the honoring of the servicemen / women present & pay appropriate respects under the guise of doing the decent thing, when the reality is that it's just another piece of paid promotion. Also sickening is the attempt to pass the whole event off as some kind of charity deal with the $10k donation to the USO, which certainly seems to be a bit miserly when the club has accepted ten times that amount to hold an event that basically consists of them letting a large group of people on the field.
Over at the NFL, where the issue runs into millions of dollars across its franchises, the league has already announced it will be investigating any instances of 'improper payments' & has promised to refund any that are found. It would probably come has no shock to you that fellow Kroenke owned team the St. Louis Rams is also featured on the list.
The article on this site that initially broke this story made a point of saying that the Rapids should be giving the $100k back. It is hard to disagree with that sentiment.