Politics

Senators To Pentagon: Stop Paying The NFL Millions For Troop Tributes

| by Kathryn Schroeder
NFL Game.NFL Game.

A bipartisan group of senators want to put an end to the use of taxpayer dollars to honor U.S. troops at National Football League games.

An amendment filed on June 4 by Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake from Arizona, and Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut, to the National Defense Authorization Act would ban the Department of Defense from spending taxpayer money to have American soldiers honored at any sporting event, reports CNN.

The amendment would also encourage professional sports organizations that have accepted taxpayer funds in exchange for military tributes to donate that money to organizations that support members of the U.S. armed forces, veterans and their families.

The National Guard paid NFL teams nearly $7 million for marketing and advertising contracts over the last three years, the senators said in a statement.

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The New England Patriots received $675,000 during that time, which included the team’s “True Patriot” promotion where the team honored guard troops during home game half-time shows. The Guard also paid for color guard ceremonies, American flag ceremonies, and player appearances at local high schools.

The New York Jets received $377,000 between 2011 and 2014 from the New Jersey Army National Guard and the Department of Defense.

Flake uncovered the public marketing contracts associated with the Jets earnings. In addition to “Hometown Hero” salutes, funds were spent for billboards at the stadium, tickets for veterans and their families to attend games, and costs associated with veterans attending kickoff events with Jets players.

“Those of us go to sporting events and see them honoring the heroes,” Flake said in May, NBC Sports reported. “You get a good feeling in your heart. Then to find out they’re doing it because they’re compensated for it, it leaves you underwhelmed. It seems a little unseemly … They realize the public believes they’re doing it as a public service or a sense of patriotism. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”

McCain said in May that wealthy NFL owners are “disgraceful” and “crass” for the practice of taking money in exchange for honoring American troops.

"For many Americans, football is deeply patriotic and woven into the very fabric of our country's unique history and heritage,” McCain said on the Senate floor. "That is why I and so many other Americans were shocked and disappointed to learn that several NFL teams weren't sponsoring these activities out of the goodness of their own hearts, but were doing it to make an extra buck, taking money from the American taxpayers in exchange for honoring American troops."

McCain highlighted $49 million from a government oversight report released last month that the Army National Guard spent in 2014 on marketing and advertising with professional sports organizations. This was reportedly occurring at the same time the Guard was experiencing serious budget shortfalls in the accounts it uses to pay and train soldiers.

According to USAspending.gov, the practice of paying professional sports teams has been going on since at least 2009. The Pentagon has paid more than $1.2 million to the Baltimore Ravens since 2009, and more than $1.1 million to the Atlanta Falcons since 2010.

The NFL thinks the amendment is creating a distorted picture of the relationship between the NFL and the U.S. military.

"We agree that no one should be paid to honor our troops," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. "Military spending on recruiting efforts should not be confused with programs that support our nation's active military and veterans. The NFL's long history of honoring and supporting our troops will continue because it is the right thing to do."

Other teams that have accepted taxpayer funds in exchange for marketing and advertising for U.S. troops include the Bills, Bengals, Browns, Cowboys, Colts, Chiefs, Dolphins, Packers, Rams, Steelers and Vikings.

Sources: CNN, NBC Sports

Photo Source: Georgia National Guard/Flickr