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McCain Joins Flake in Blasting ‘Paid-For Patriotism’ in NFL, Other Sports (Video)

Flake is targeting Pentagon spending on sports teams. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Flake is targeting Pentagon spending on sports teams. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

John McCain joined Jeff Flake Tuesday in ripping arrangements in which the Pentagon paid NFL and other sports teams for displays of patriotism, and said he intends to wield his Armed Services gavel to take aim at the practice.  

As part of his regular “Pork Chops” series, about two weeks ago, Flake’s office revealed an advertising partnership between the New Jersey National Guard and the New York Jets in which the Defense Department paid for promotional consideration to recognize service members at home games at the Meadowlands.  

That led to a series of reports about agreements between the Pentagon and other teams in the NFL, as well as other leagues, with some teams quick to say they’ll be handled differently in the future.  

McCain, Flake’s senior GOP colleague from Arizona and a fellow crusader against what the senators view as wasteful government spending, said he’ll fight the practice.  

“It’s pretty clear I think one of the ways to move forward on this is in the defense authorization bill,” McCain told reporters Tuesday. “It’s so crass on the part of these football team owners who make enormous profits, for them to do that is really — I think it’s very revealing as to what kind of people they are.”  

The defense policy bill is being considered this week by the Armed Services Committee behind closed doors.  

“I think it’s really disgraceful. I think it’s really disgraceful that NFL teams who are, profits are at an all time high, have to be paid to honor our veterans,” McCain said.  

In an interview with CQ Roll Call, Flake said federal spending such as the sports contracts is often difficult to track, much like the congressional earmarks he used to ridicule during his time in the House before the current prohibition. Lawmakers back then would change the names of projects to make them more difficult to track down from year to year.  

“[The National Defense Authorization Act] coming up may be the appropriate place, but we’re really looking to get some more information back from DOD on the extent of this. Some reporters who are now doing their own investigation are finding a lot of other contracts, certainly outside of the NFL,” Flake said. “I’m anxious to get the report back from DOD.”  

Flake said he did not bring up the subject with Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter Tuesday, with Carter having a number of more pressing national security issues to address. Carter was the guest speaker at the week’s Republican Conference lunch.  

Certainly not all sports teams receive government money to honor troops, and three local teams: the Nationals, Redskins and Wizards were quick to confirm to CQ Roll Call that they have no such arrangements. Many sports teams have corporate sponsors, from car dealerships to defense contractors, paying for tickets, luxury boxes or other benefits for veterans and service members, and Flake said he had no issue with such arrangements.  

“A lot of them are doing it on their own, and I think a lot of them were doing it on their own before some of them were being paid for,” Flake said. “For the Department of Defense to be doing it doesn’t sit very well.”  

Flake also said he had no issues with military recruiters setting up tents at sporting events or anything of that sort, but it’s the “paid-for patriotism” that has his attention.  

“We’ve asked [the Pentagon] to, one … explain how much money is being spent on partnerships with sports teams, and two, how you know they’re structured or what they’re told to do with it,” Flake said, highlighting the specificity in the contract between the Jets and the National Guard.  

“We don’t know how many of the contracts actually spell out what they have to do, and what we would certainly follow-up with is request [the Government Accountability Office] or somebody else look into this and find out what kind of ROI, or return on investment there is,” Flake said, saying the service branches were unable to justify the investment on NASCAR sponsorships in prior years.  

The National Guard moved last year to significantly scale back its sports sponsorships, including ending its relationship as a primary sponsor of Dale Earnhardt Jr., in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.  

On the newest controversy, Flake said to date, detailed deals have been uncovered with the Jets and the Vikings, but “my guess is there are more with specific contracts … but we haven’t seen them yet.”  

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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