Updated 6:22 p.m. | A trio of senators, including the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, have won the support of their colleagues to block the Pentagon from spending taxpayer dollars to honor troops at sporting events.
The proposal would bar the use of federal contracts to have members of the armed services honored at sporting events. The practice came to light when Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., highlighted an agreement between the NFL's New York Jets and the New Jersey National Guard.
Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., has joined with his home-state colleague and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., in drafting the amendment to the fiscal 2016 defense authorization now on the Senate floor. Blumenthal is the ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee. The amendment was adopted by unanimous consent Thursday.
"Football fans across America learned last month that several NFL teams were honoring U.S. service members not out of a sense of patriotism, but for profit in the form of millions of dollars from the U.S. Department of Defense," the three senators said in a joint statement. "Our amendment would put an end to this practice, and ask professional sports leagues like the NFL to donate to charities supporting American troops, veterans and their families."
Flake initially sought additional information from the Defense Department about the scope of the federal funding for efforts to get sports teams and leagues to honor troops. He said the authorization might be the appropriate place to take legislative action to curb what he called "paid-for patriotism."
McCain's office said the National Guard alone has spent roughly $7 million on marketing and advertising with NFL franchises over a three-year period. The office highlighted in particular the "True Patriot" promotion run by the New England Patriots. The Patriots have received a total of $675,000 from the National Guard over the three years, according to the Armed Services chairman.
"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," McCain, Flake and Blumenthal said in the statement.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy decried the amendment in a statement provided to Roll Call just after the Senate adjourned Thursday evening.
"This amendment paints a completely distorted picture of the relationship between NFL teams and our military. 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," McCarthy said. "The NFL’s long history of honoring and supporting our troops will continue because it is the right thing to do."
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