Please note that this article will not be discussing the Falcons' offseason, but is an editorial on NFL teams being paid to honor veterans. Feel free to skip this if you're not up for that discussion.
All too often, efforts to honor military veterans come across as hollow, attempts to pay lip service to their tremendous sacrifices without acknowledging the real truth that veterans often return from war with injuries both visible and invisible, injuries that this country is too often ill-equipped to help them with. Money that goes toward "honoring" the troops is appreciated, but does little to help heal those wounds or help veterans navigate their post-war lives.
That's why the news that NFL teams are taking money from the Department of Defense to honor veterans at games is so deeply, deeply disappointing. You'll want to read the eloquent Matt Ufford, a former Marine, to better understand what's happening here. Suffice to say the "Hometown Heroes" ceremonies you see at so many NFL games are paid for by the military, which chat casts what should be a touching moment in an entirely different and unfortunate light.
Since 2011, the Falcons have taken almost a million dollars from the DoD for these salutes and other advertising, making them one of 14 NFL teams to do so. These teams will no doubt tell you they do plenty to honor the military anyways, and the military will tell you that this is a great way to recruit personnel in front of a supportive crowd. It's tough to take either claim particularly seriously without the numbers to back those claims up, even if I am well aware that the Falcons are good about sending players to veteran-focused events. Instead, as Ufford notes, you get the NFL and DoD conspiring to deliver an on-field commercial paid for by the very same fans who are cheering for it.
The Falcons are far from the only team guilty of this, but I find it troubling that they and others are taking money from the Department of Defense to stage these events. These are NFL teams, after all, who rake in unbelievable amounts of cash and already tend to pinch pennies on new stadium projects. Teams should have absolutely no problem sinking portions of their own vast marketing and advertising budgets to honor veterans, making donations of money and time toward organizations making powerful differences in the lives of military veterans and encouraging fans to do the same. Teams are equipped to do this and more without cashing checks from the DoD and muddying the waters, and frankly the DoD and National Guard's advertising budget could be better spent elsewhere.
If NFL teams care so deeply about veterans, they'll spend more time and energy funneling cash and time the other way, in other words. Otherwise these moments, while a fleeting, sweet moment for the veterans involved, will continue to be deeply cynical marketing moments for teams and a league with the resources to do something worth a damn.