Press Releases

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and John McCain (R-AZ) released a new joint oversight report today exposing widespread evidence that the Department of Defense (DOD) has been paying professional sports teams in the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Hockey League (NHL), and Major League Soccer (MLS) to honor American soldiers at sporting events. The report shows that contrary to the leagues’ assertions, 72 of the 122 contracts amounting to $6.8 million contained some form of paid patriotism. Certain contracts show that DOD paid for specific activities including on-field color guard performances, enlistment and re-enlistment ceremonies, performances of the national anthem, full-field flag details, and ceremonial first pitches and puck drops.

Examples of these activities include:

  • $49,000 to the Milwaukee Brewers for the Wisconsin Army National Guard to sponsor each Sunday performance of “God Bless America” during home game with announcement and logo recognition on the video board.
  • $1,509 for the LA Galaxy to provide pregame recognition of five high ranking officers of the Air Force and 100 general admission tickets to that game
  • $20,000 to the New York Jets to recognize one to two New Jersey Army National Guard soldiers as hometown heroes at each home game on the videoboard and Coaches Club access for the recognized soldier(s) and three guests

Other displays constitute blatant waste and abuse and may be little more than a taxpayer-funded boondoggle:

  • The Air Force paid the Cincinnati Bengals nearly $5,000 for 60 club-level tickets.
  • The National Guard paid the Indianapolis Colts for use of a luxury suite, autographed items, pre-game field visits and cheerleader appearances.
  • The National Guard paid the Boston Bruins for a luxury box for 18 people and an executive view suite for 25 people on military appreciation night.

“Fans should not be unknowing viewers of a paid-marketing campaigns. 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,” said Senator Flake. “Professional sports teams do a lot of good for our military, but paid patriotism on the taxpayers’ dime cheapens true displays of patriotism.”

“Americans across the country should be deeply disappointed that many of the ceremonies honoring 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 McCain. “Fans should have confidence that their hometown heroes are being honored because of their honorable military service, not as a marketing ploy.”

Flake and McCain’s report comes after months of investigative work, through which DOD failed to adequately provide the senators’ staff with information they requested regarding the scale of these paid tributes. More than a third of the contracts highlighted in the senators’ report were not provided by DOD, but instead discovered through their own investigative work. Forty-eight percent of those discovered contracts contained some form of paid patriotism.

Over the course of the investigation, the senators found that DOD cannot accurately account for how many contracts it has awarded or how much money has been spent. DOD’s official response to congressional inquiries only accounted for 62 percent of the 122 total contracts it had with major league teams that the senators’ staff was able to uncover, and 70 percent of the more than $10 million DOD actually spent on these contracts. While DOD maintains that these paid tributes are meant to support recruitment, it has not provided any evidence that these activities actually support that effort.

Earlier this year, the senators successfully amended the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 to prohibit the Department of Defense from spending taxpayer dollars on these deceitful practices, and to call on professional sports organizations that have accepted taxpayer funds in exchange for military tributes to donate those profits to organizations supporting U.S. armed forces, veterans, and their families.

The full report is here.