Senate Works to Stop National Guard Payments to NFL Teams

Several Senators have teamed up to present legislation that would stop NFL teams from receiving money from the Defense Department to honor American soldiers at games.

Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., sponsored an amendment that also called upon the teams to donate profits from these efforts to charitable organizations that support members of the U.S. military, veterans and their families.

"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 said June 4 on the Senate floor.

"At a time of crippling budget cuts under sequestration, the Defense Department cannot afford to waste its limited resources for the benefit of sports leagues that rake in billions of dollars a year," McCain said.

Overall, NFL teams have received nearly $7 million in taxpayer dollars over the last three years from contracts with the Army National Guard which include public tributes to American troops.

A statement from McCain's office detailed a list of more than 20 NFL teams who have profited from the sponsored patriotism which, among other things, has included on-field flag roll outs, pre-game color guard ceremonies, half-time soldier recognition ceremonies and National Guard sponsored high-school player of the week recognitions.

For example, McCain pointed to the New England Patriots "True Patriot" program honoring soldiers at half-time during games. The Patriots have received $675,000 through contracts from the National Guard to conduct these events.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been paid by the National Guard to the Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears and many others for various patriotic activities recognizing soldiers during games, the statement from McCain detailed.

"What makes these expenditures all the more troubling is that, at the same time that the Guard was spending millions on professional sports advertising, it was also running out of money for critical training for our troops," McCain said.

At the end of fiscal year 2014, the National Guard Bureau and Army National Guard announced that they were facing a $101 million shortfall in the account used to pay National Guardsmen, and could face a delay in critical training and drills because they couldn't afford to pay soldiers, he added.

"Despite the fact that the Guard was facing serious threats to meeting its primary mission and paying its current soldiers, it was spending millions of taxpayer dollars on sponsorship and advertising deals with professional sports leagues such as the NFL," McCain said.

The National Guard also paid money to the NBA, NHL and NASCAR but it's unclear why the lawmakers did not specify those professional sports leagues in the legislation. A call to request comment regarding that question was not immediately returned.

-- Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@military.com

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