Senators McCain and Blumenthal Stick Up for Fans, Veterans

Sports Fans Coalition MVP winners and all-around champions, Sens. McCain and Blumenthal, have pushed back on NFL teams’ misuse of taxpayer funds. The Senate today adopted an amendment offered by Sen. McCain, whose floor statement follows:

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today delivered the following statement on the Senate floor on the amendment he co-sponsored with Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), which would stop the practice of the Department of Defense paying professional sports teams and leagues such as the NFL to honor American soldiers at sporting events and call on them to donate profits from these military tributes to charitable organizations that support members of the Armed Forces, veterans, and their families. The text of the amendment is attached.

“Mr. President, I rise to speak about an amendment I sponsored with my colleagues, Senator Flake from Arizona and Senator Blumenthal from Connecticut.

“Along with sports fans across America, I was appalled to learn last month that many of the ceremonies honoring members of our armed services at NFL games 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 NFL franchises. In fact, 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. Our amendment would put an end to this shameful practice and ask the NFL to return those profits to charities supporting our troops, veterans and their families.

“Mr. President, all Americans can agree: sports unite us – especially football. For generations, football has brought together people from every walk of life. From the first organized American football game between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869 to Super Bowl XLIX played in the great state of Arizona this February, which attracted more than 100 million television viewers – the most-watched TV program in history – football has been a uniting force for our nation. Every weekend from pee-wee to high school, college and the NFL, through good seasons and bad, in common cause and bitter rivalry, millions of passionate fans are bonded together through this great sport.

“For many Americans, football is deeply patriotic and woven into the very fabric of our country’s unique history and heritage. And for several weeks every fall, this patriotic spirit grows when the NFL takes time to honor the service and sacrifice of the brave young Americans serving in the United States armed forces. Teams wear special camouflage uniforms, and hold special game-day programming under the theme ‘Salute to Service.’ We’ve all been heartened by these patriotic displays – from the giant oversized flags and color guard pre-game performances to half-time tributes to our hometown heroes. Every fan – whether united by team or divided by rivalry – comes together to thank those who have served and sacrificed on our nation’s behalf.

“That is why 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. That means many of the color guard performances and troop recognition ceremonies were actually funded with American tax dollars and pocketed by wealthy NFL teams.

“For example, the Army National Guard spent $675,000 under contracts with the New England Patriots that included a program called ‘True Patriot,’ in which the team honored Guard soldiers at half-time shows during home games. Other contracts funded color guard performances, flag ceremonies, and appearance fees to players for honoring local high school coaches and visiting students.

“According to information my office has received from the Army National Guard, the NFL received nearly $7 million in taxpayer dollars over the last three years from Guard contracts for activities including:

“Pre-game color guard ceremonies;
“Pre-game re-enlistment ceremonies;
“Pre-game on-field American flag-roll outs;
“In-game flag runners;
“Half-time soldier recognition ceremonies;
“Guard-sponsored high school ‘player of the week’ and ‘coach of the week’ awards; and
“Guard-sponsored player appearances at local high-schools.

“The following teams had contracts in the past three years, according to the Army National Guard:

“Atlanta Falcons: $579,500
“Baltimore Ravens: $350,000
“Buffalo Bills: $550,000
“Chicago Bears: $443,000
“Cincinnati Bengals: $117,000
“Dallas Cowboys: $262,500
“Denver Broncos: $460,000
“Detroit Lions: $193,000
“Green Bay Packers: $300,000
“Indianapolis Colts: $400,000
“Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars: $160,000
“Minnesota Vikings: $410,000
“New Orleans Saints: $307,000
“New York Jets: $212,500
“Oakland Raiders: $275,000
“Pittsburgh Steelers: $217,000
“St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs: $60,000
“San Diego Chargers: $453,500
“San Francisco 49ers: $125,000
“Seattle Seahawks: $393,500

“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. In fact, 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. 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.

“This is obviously unacceptable. Providing for our common defense is the highest duty of the federal government. 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. As each of the four service chiefs have warned before the Senate Armed Services Committee this year, sequestration is damaging our military readiness and putting American lives in danger. We must conserve every precious defense dollar we have at our disposal – which the NDAA does through important reforms to acquisition, military retirement, personnel, and headquarters and management, and which our amendment would support by ending taxpayer-funded soldier tributes at professional sporting events.

“In addition to ending this shameful practice, our amendment calls upon professional sports leagues like the NFL to donate these ill-gotten profits to charities supporting American troops, veterans and their families. The NFL raked in revenues totaling some $9.5 billion dollars last year. The absolute least they can do to begin to make up for this misjudgment is return those taxpayer dollars to charities supporting our troops, veterans, and military families.

“I want to thank my fellow Senator from the state of Arizona, Jeff Flake, who has done terrific oversight of this issue, was the first to expose it, and continues to expose similar cases of wasteful and excessive government spending. I also want to commend Senator Blumenthal for his longstanding commitment to our troops and veterans, as well as the other members of this body who have supported our amendment.

“Thank you.”

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