A Sports Cheer for John McCain (Arizona Republic)

Sports fans from around the United States are cheering for Arizona’s senator.

Forget about political parties, gridlock and partisanship in Washington, D.C. Every fan has a champion in Sen. John McCain, who is willing to take on the biggest, most powerful professional sports leagues and help our American pastimes better reflect our values of fair play and community.

Two examples stand out.

First, sports fans represented by our organization took on the NFL’s obnoxious, anti-fan practice of blacking out games on local TV when the stadium failed to sell out, even though 29 of the 32 NFL stadiums were built with taxpayer money.
Unlike most politicians, McCain did not look to see which way the polls were leaning or shy away from taking on wealthy team owners and powerful leagues. He stood with fans and stood up to the NFL’s outdated blackout practice.
Fans won. The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously to end its “sports blackout rule” that propped up the NFL’s practice. NFL owners later voted to suspend their local blackout rule altogether.

Commentators on ESPN credited “political pressure” from Washington as the reason for the NFL’s action. Translation: the NFL heard Sen. McCain and fans loud and clear, then eventually did the right thing. There will be no local blackouts next season.

The second example of McCain standing up for fans came earlier this month when he called attention to NFL teams holding ceremonies honoring members of the military, not out of a sense of patriotism, but to line their pockets with millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

Sens. McCain, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the National Guard paid NFL teams nearly $7 million for marketing and advertising contracts, including over a half million dollars to the New England Patriots for activities like the team’s “True Patriot” promotion, in which the team honored soldiers during half-time shows.
Other National Guard funds paid for color guard performances, flag ceremonies and appearance fees to players for honoring local high school coaches and visiting students, according to the senators.

“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 on the Senate floor. “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, along with Blumenthal and Flake, introduced an amendment to the annual defense bill that would end this boondoggle and call on professional sports leagues to donate any profits from these National Guard contracts to charities supporting American troops, veterans, and their families. The amendment passed.

Sports fans across the U.S. are cheering. Thank you, Arizona, for sending us a senator who understands how sports should bring us together as a nation, how they first and foremost belong to the American public, not just a small group of team owners, and how the business of sports must be played fairly, just like the games on the field.

David Goodfriend is chairman of Sports Fans Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group representing fans where sports and public policy intersect. Brad Blakeman is a board member.

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