“Until 2009, no NFL player stood for the national anthem because players actually stayed in the locker room as the anthem played,” ESPN’sStephen A. Smith explained in 2016. “The players were moved to the field during the national anthem because it was seen as a marketing strategy to make the athletes look more patriotic. The United States Department of Defense paid the National Football League $5.4 million between 2011 and 2014, and the National Guard $6.7 million between 2013 and 2015 to stage onfield patriotic ceremonies as part of military-recruitment budget line items.”
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy later confirmed that players did not appear on field for the anthem until 2009, and Vice notes that Smith’s claim was checked by an ESPN researcher.
Urging players to appear onfield during the national anthem is just one example of “paid patriotism.” The Department of Defense poured millions of dollars into the NFL in exchange for displays of patriotism during games.
Sen. John McCain and Sen. Jeff Flake in 2015 in a joint report revealed:
"In all, the military services reported $53 million in spending on marketing and advertising contracts with sports teams between 2012 and 2015. More than $10 million of that total was paid to teams in the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), and Major League Soccer (MLS)...72 of the 122 contracts we analyzed—clearly show that DOD paid for patriotic tributes at professional football, baseball, basketball, hockey, and soccer games. These paid tributes included on-field color guard, enlistment and reenlistment ceremonies, performances of the national anthem, full-field flag details, ceremonial first pitches and puck drops. The National Guard paid teams for the “opportunity” to sponsor military appreciation nights and to recognize its birthday. It paid the Buffalo Bills to sponsor its Salute to the Service game. DOD even paid teams for the “opportunity” to perform surprise welcome home promotions for troops returning from deployments and to recognize wounded warriors. …"
“This is not actually part of football. This was invented in 2009 from the government paying the NFL to market military recruitment to get more people to go off and fight wars to die,” he said. “This has nothing to do with the NFL, or American pastime, or tradition. … This is to get boys and girls to go fly overseas and go kill people. They’re marketing. They’re pumping millions and millions of dollars into the NFL to get us to put on a pageant in front of the NFL football games to get you to go off and fight.”