I criticized the Falcons and the NFL earlier this week after it was reported that money from the military was being used to stage events saluting veterans without the use of that money being disclosed. The crux of my argument was that it was misleading for fans and that NFL teams do not do enough with their dollars to legitimately aid veterans, especially given that they're getting advertising and marketing dollars from the military.
It was not immediately clear where all the money the Falcons received from the military was going, and in a statement released a little while ago, Arthur Blank attempted to clarify and expand upon the nature of the partnership. It is illuminating enough that I wanted to share it with you and give you the team's side of the story here.
Here's a link to the full statement, which I'd encourage you to read in full. If you're not interested in the long version to follow, I'd say I appreciate Blank's addressing where the dollars go, but my feelings on the way NFL teams accept and use this money has not really changed.
I applaud all the work the Falcons do for veterans and always have, but my argument is that NFL teams should A) do more than they do, including donating to organizations with the opportunity to make massive differences in the lives of veterans returning from war and B) should not be running events like Hometown Heroes without stipulating that those events are paid for by the military. Blank does not specifically cite those kinds of events in his statement, but we're all aware the Falcons do them alongside many other teams, and it was disheartening for me to learn that teams are not doing those on their own dime. This NPR story reader Lake the Autist provided sheds further light, noting that some but not all of those events are paid for by the National Guard.
The U.S. military is not just like any other partner because they are taxpayer-funded, I'd argue, and the NFL's heavily pro-military and pro-veteran stance rings a little bit hollow if they're being paid to take that stance.
For all that, though, Blank is right to respond, and it's fair to say that my initial criticism was based heavily on a story that gave a limited view of where these dollars went.
The Atlanta Falcons are and long have been one of the most community-focused organizations in football, and we both applaud that and do like to highlight the good work done by players in Atlanta, in particular. None of the criticism we and other outlets have lobbed at the team in the last week diminishes that work, and certainly the Falcons still stand head and shoulders above their peers in that regard. While I appreciate that and Blank's statement, my two main points of criticism stand and will continue to do so until the way NFL teams present veteran-focused events and the way they use their dollars to support veterans change. Hopefully the discussion that's come out of this issue being brought to light will lead to exactly that.