WASHINGTON, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Defense paid some $6.8 million to professional sports franchises in the past four years to honor American soldiers at sporting events, a joint oversight committee announced Wednesday.
Arizona Republican Sens. John Flake and John McCain found among the sponsorship expenses were $49,000 to the Milwaukee Brewers to sponsor Sunday performances of "God Bless America" and $20,000 to the New York Jets to honor New Jersey Army National Guard soldiers. Events included full-field displays of the American flag and emotional reunions of service members with their families.
Since 2012, the Pentagon signed dozens of contracts with National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League and Major League Soccer teams that amounted to "paid patriotism," McCain said.
The Pentagon said the marketing contracts were intended to help with recruitment efforts, but Flake and McCain said there's no evidence they were effective. Instead, the senators said they were met with countless roadblocks from the Pentagon during their investigation.
"We wonder just how many of these displays included a disclaimer that these events were in fact sponsored by the DOD at taxpayer expense," the committee's report said. "Even with that disclosure, it is hard to understand how a team accepting taxpayer funds to sponsor a military appreciation game, or to recognize wounded warriors or returning troops, can be construed as anything other than paid patriotism."
In reviewing 72 of 122 contracts, the committee found the DOD paid for contracts that included national anthem performances, enlistment ceremonies and color guard presentations. Most of the contracts came with game tickets and VIP access most likely given to recruiters or participating troops at the events, the committee found.
In addition to paying professional sporting teams, the DOD spent dollars on displays at the Alamo City Comic Con in Texas ($7,000), the University of Wisconsin sporting events ($170,000), the Iron Dog snowmobile race in Alaska ($700,000) and NASCAR ($1.6 million).
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the NFL is conducting an audit of all of its agreements between the teams and the military and would refund payments made for activities beyond recruitment. It is unclear how much will be refunded.