The US government has paid professional sports franchises millions of dollars over almost four years as part of a taxpayer-funded programme to promote the military, according to a US Senate report.
The report said on Wednesday that the Department of Defense (DoD) paid more than $9m to NFL, NBA, MLB, MLS, NHL teams and NASCAR to bolster recruitment and promote the armed services by staging patriotic displays at sporting events.
The activities included paying for recruitment ceremonies, on-field colour-guard performances, hometown heroes ceremonies, puck drops and first pitches.
“Americans across the country should be deeply disappointed that many of the ceremonies honouring troops at professional sporting events 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 pro sports franchises,” said Senator John McCain, one of the co-authors of the report.
McCain and Flake said they are not against patriotic salutes, but they are against taxpayer funds being used to compensate multimillion-dollar sports teams.
The report said much of the money was doled out without proper supervision.
“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,” the report said.
The report said the NFL initially downplayed criticism of the practice but has now called on all its clubs to stop accepting money for patriotic events.
Some of the biggest recipients of the Pentagon money included the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons – which has received a total of $879,000 since 2012 – and NASCAR, which received $1.5m just this year.
The Senate report also noted that the records of all contracts since 2012 between the military and sports franchises were requested from the Pentagon, but only two-thirds of them were provided.
Some of the material provided was also misleading, according to the report.
Asked whether US President Barack Obama thought it was appropriate for the DoD to pay professional sports franchises to honour service members at games, Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, said: “I’m not aware that the president has weighed in on this, and I will acknowledge that I’m not aware of the policies that govern those kinds of relationships.
“I do know that the Department of Defense would likely say that these kinds of relationships enhance their recruiting efforts.”