In November it was reported that the Pentagon paid at least $6 million to 16 NFL teams from 2011 to 2014 for “patriotic displays” during games or events. Naturally, there was a huge backlash as a result of that finding. Now the NFL is trying to save a little face by agreeing to refund taxpayers $723,724 for those acts of “sponsored patriotism.”
While the NFL was not the only major sports league involved in this kind of activity, it does appear the bulk of the money went to the league’s teams.
The November report, spearheaded by Republican senators Jeff Flake and John McCain, uncovered a massive scheme that involved federal funding going to promote patriotism at sporting events. A quote from the report summed up the issue:
“[u]nsuspecting audience members became the subjects of paid-marketing campaigns rather than simply bearing witness to teams’ authentic, voluntary shows of support for the brave men and women who wear our nation’s uniform. This not only betrays the sentiment and trust of fans, but casts an unfortunate shadow over the genuine patriotic partnerships that do so much for our troops, such as the National Football League’s Salute to the Service campaign.”
The Pentagon called those types of events “a key recruitment tool,” but to many they seemed exploitative. And the fact that American professional sports leagues would have to take money in order to do something patriotic at a game is, frankly, disgusting. The NFL should honor veterans, or current service members out of genuine patriotism and shouldn’t have to collect a check to recognize a wounded soldier on the jumbotron.
The $723,724 the NFL is paying back is far from the full amount the league and its teams received from the government. It may be on the individual teams to relinquish the funds they were paid.
UPDATE: Both Senator Flake and Senator McCain have responded to the news the NFL will pay back taxpayers:
Flake’s statement follows:
“In all the years I’ve spent trying to root out egregious federal spending, the NFL is the first organization to perform due diligence, take responsibility, and return funds to the taxpayers. The NFL’s response to this investigation sets a new standard and only strengthens its reputation as a supporter of military service members and veterans.”
McCain had this to say:
“I applaud the NFL’s audit in response to our oversight investigation into ‘paid patriotism.’ Returning the $723,000 is the right thing to do. But the NFL is only one of several sports leagues we identified that accepted money from the Pentagon in return for honoring our troops. The other organizations – Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer – should also conduct an audit and return the money or donate it to service members, veterans and their families. We’ll be working to once again include language in the defense authorization bill that would fully ensure the Defense Department never again spends American tax dollars to honor our troops.”
That’s high praise for the NFL from the senators, but it’s clear they will not be satisfied until other leagues and teams join the NFL in paying back the money.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote a letter to both Flake and McCain detailing the internal audit the NFL did and announcing that the league would pay back the money. The text is pasted below:
Dear Senators McCain and Flake:
As I wrote to you last November, the NFL’s longstanding relationship with the military, our veterans and their families is one of the deepest and most important to the league. Our respect for the work of America’s servicemen and women is reflected in a wide variety of activities. The NFL participates in USO goodwill tours; recognizes military service at all major NFL events; holds year-round military appreciation activities; donates complimentary game tickets-more than 100,000 in just the last few years; works closely with the Army on critical health and safety innovations; and has raised millions of dollars through our Salute to Service campaign, 100 percent of which has gone directly to three non-profit partners-the USO, Pat Tillman Foundation and Wounded Warrior Project. NFL players and our member clubs support active and retired military members in many other ways as well.
Additionally, our relationship with the military includes the advancement of recruitment efforts. The NFL’s platform enables the National Guard and various branches of the military to maximize the reach and effectiveness of their recruitment funding. These recruitment efforts are intended to be separate and apart from the NFL’ s longstanding support of the service members and families who have dedicated their lives to serving this great country.
As such, in response to indications that some payments intended for recruitment advertising and marketing were used for activities honoring the troops, I directed that an audit be conducted on all contracts between NFL clubs and the military. The auditors used professional standards and a set of consistent, agreed-upon procedures, reviewed in advance by Deloitte & Touche LLP, to evaluate the contracts between the clubs and military entities. This audit involved not only reviewing the contracts mentioned in your reports, but many others as well, totaling 100 agreements in all, covering four NFL seasons, 2012-2015. In assessing whether a payment could be construed as being made for honoring our troops, rather than for recruitment activities, the auditors erred on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion of any payment that might fall into this category.
On this basis, the audit identified $723,734 over those four seasons that may have been mistakenly applied to appreciation activities rather than recruitment efforts. This amount will be promptly returned in full to the taxpayers.
In order to ensure that military appreciation activities remain separate from military recruitment efforts in the future, the NFL will include an assessment of marketing contracts in our regular internal audit reviews going forward, with a specific focus on compliance with current Defense Department guidance. Should you wish to discuss this further, the auditors and NFL staff are available at your convenience.