DOD slammed for millions spent on ‘paid patriotism’ at sporting events

The Defense Department has spent millions paying professional sports teams to honor American soldiers, according to a new congressional report that revealed the extent of what critics call “paid patriotism.”

Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, who have criticized the military over the practice for months, announced the findings of their review at a press conference Wednesday.

"When events take place on the field that anyone assumes ... is done out of the goodness of their heart, and find out that it is being paid for by the taxpayer, it kind of cheapens everything," Flake told Fox News. "It's just not right."

According to the investigative report, contracts worth $6.8 million since fiscal 2012 included “displays of paid patriotism.” These involve leagues ranging from the NFL to the MLB to the NHL.

The practice was first criticized this past spring, when it was revealed the DOD was paying money to more than a dozen NFL teams to honor soldiers and put on other segments to recognize the military – and in turn help recruitment.

The new Senate report said this included paying for ceremonial first pitches, puck drops and color guard performances, among other events.

Among the expenses were $20,000 to the New York Jets to honor “Hometown Heroes,” and $49,000 to the Milwaukee Brewers for the Wisconsin National Guard to sponsor Sunday performances of “God Bless America.”

While the DOD has moved to stop the practice, McCain and Flake also are pushing an amendment to next year’s defense authorization bill barring taxpayer funding for these tributes. Asked about the push on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama had no objection to the amendment.

Now, the senators are calling on various sports organizations to donate the taxpayer funds they have accepted to organizations supporting veterans, families, and the Armed Forces.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the NFL is auditing team marketing contracts and said the money would be returned if it was used for patriotic tributes.

According to the Senate report, the Arizona Diamondbacks also were given $40,000 in taxpayer money to spend on the on-field oath ceremony, color-guard demonstrations and more. All told, throughout the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, and MLS, $53 million was spent on marketing and advertising contracts.

“Fans should not be unknowing viewers of a paid-marketing campaign. I am pleased that the Department of Defense has banned paid patriotism and the NFL has called on clubs to stop accepting payment for patriotic salutes,” Flake said in a statement. “Professional sports teams do a lot of good for our military, but paid patriotism on the taxpayers’ dime cheapens true displays of patriotism.”