Blumenthal takes aim at NFL’s paid tributes to soldiers

Halftime tribute Bengals

Washington – Sen. Richard Blumenthal has teamed with Sen. John McCain to try to end the Pentagon’s practice of paying the National Football League and other professional sports franchises to honor American troops at sporting events.

“Along with sports fans across America, I was appalled to learn last month that many of the ceremonies honoring members of our armed services at NFL games are not actually being conducted out of a sense of patriotism, but for profit in the form of millions in taxpayer dollars going from the Department of Defense to wealthy NFL franchises,” McCain, R-Ariz., said on the Senate floor Thursday.

The senators’ legislation would also require professional sports teams to donate the money they’ve already collected to charities supporting troops, veterans and their families.

As an amendment to the massive National Defense Authorization Act, which would authorize billions of dollars in spending on Connecticut’s defense industry next year, the legislation will be considered by the Senate next week, an aide to McCain said.

McCain and Blumenthal say NFL teams have received nearly $7 million in taxpayer money over the last three years from the DOD, which sometimes partnered with the National Guard to sponsor segments saluting “Hometown Heroes.”  One such deal, in the amount of $675,000, involved the New England Patriots and included the team’s “True Patriot” promotion, in which the team honored Guard soldiers during home game half-times.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the payments were for recruiting efforts, not tributes.

“This amendment paints a completely distorted picture of the relationship between NFL teams and our military,” he said. “We agree that no one should be paid to honor our troops. Military spending on recruiting efforts should not be confused with programs that support our nation’s active military and veterans.”

Pentagon spokesman Nathan Christensen said “as a matter of policy” the Defense Department does not comment on pending legislation.

But he said the DOD “frequently engages with organizations that have the ability to reach a large number people to connect with the American public.”

“The purpose of community outreach is to connect with the American public; showcase our military capabilities; and inspire service,” Christensen said.

He said color guards, bands, flyovers and troop formations on the field are not done as part of sponsorship or advertising agreements, but commercials, in-game announcements and other activities are paid for as part of recruiting efforts.

The Jets, Falcons, Ravens, Bills, Bengals, Browns, Cowboys, Packers, Colts, Chiefs, Dolphins, Vikings, Steelers and Rams have also accepted the money from the DOD.

“In a time of growing threats to our nation’s security, we can’t afford to give scarce defense dollars to wealthy sports teams, and fans should have confidence that their hometown heroes are being honored on Sundays because of their honorable military service, not as an NFL marketing ploy,” Blumenthal said in a joint statement with McCain and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., another sponsor of the amendment.

The issue came to light when Flake zeroed in on a $100,00 plus payment to the New York Jets for allowing soldiers to be photographed with NFL players and to be recognized as “hometown heroes” at home games.

McCain is the chairmen of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Blumenthal is one of its members. The senators have teamed up before on an NFL-related issue, in that case legislation that would ban the blackout of football games on television.

The NFL is not the only franchise to accept payment for tributes, said Flake. He said his staffers have found a number of advertising and promotion contracts between the Pentagon and Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, NASCAR and Major League Soccer.

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