Report: Pentagon paid sports teams millions for staged patriotism

Labeling the practice 'paid patriotism,' two Republican senators slam the Pentagon for paying pro sports teams $6.8 million for staging patriotic events involving members of the military.

Steven Senne/AP/File
Members of the US military carry US flags onto the field before an NFL football game between the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass.

A new report reveals that some patriotic displays involving members of the US armed forces during professional sporting events were actually costly marketing schemes paid for by the Pentagon.

The Defense Department has spent $6.8 million on sports marketing contracts since 2012, according to a joint oversight report released Wednesday by Arizona Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain.

The Pentagon distributed funds via at least 72 contracts with teams in the National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, and Major League Soccer, the report claims, including:

The Atlanta Falcons received $315,000 in 2013 for having 80 members of the National Guard unfurl an American flag across the field.

The New England Patriots were paid $700,000 for game tickets, tailgate passes, training camp passes, and use of a hospitality suite.

The New York Mets received $10,000 for letting the Air Force conduct an on-field swearing-in ceremony.

The New York Jets got $20,000 "to recognize two soldiers as hometown heroes" on the video scoreboard at each home game.

"Americans deserve the ability to assume that tributes for our men and women in military uniform are genuine displays of national pride, which many are, rather than taxpayer-funded DOD marketing gimmicks," Senators McCain and Flake wrote in the report, "Tackling Paid Patriotism."

An omnibus military authorization bill moving through Congress will contain a provision prohibiting the Pentagon practice, McCain told reporters on Wednesday. The NFL is taking its own steps to end 'paid patriotism.'

"We strongly oppose the use of recruitment funds for anything other than their proper purpose," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. According to the report, some contracts did include straightforward marketing expenditures, such as signs at stadiums and booths for military recruiters, as well as subsidizing these acts of manufactured patriotism.

The NFL is auditing its teams' marketing contracts, looking for patriotic tributes bought and paid for by the DoD, ESPN reports.

"If we find that inappropriate payments were made," Mr. Goodell wrote, "they will be refunded in full."

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