US senators slam Pentagon for 'paid patriotism' at sports events

The activities included paying for recruitment ceremonies, on field color-guard performances, hometown heroes ceremonies, puck drops, first pitches and other events (AFP Photo/Larry French)

Los Angeles (AFP) - American sports teams have raked in $6.8 million over almost four years from the US government as part of a multi-million taxpayer-funded program to promote military events, according to a Senate report.

The report says the Department of Defense paid NFL, NBA, MLB, MLS and NHL teams millions to bolster recruitment and promote the military by staging patriotic events at sporting events.

The activities included paying for recruitment ceremonies, on field color-guard performances, hometown heroes ceremonies, puck drops, first pitches and other perks.

"Americans across the country should be deeply disappointed that many of the ceremonies honoring troops at professional sporting events 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 pro sports franchises," said Senator John McCain, one of the co-authors of the report.

McCain and his co-report author Senator Jeff Flake said as a result of their study the Pentagon has been barred from spending taxpayer money on these events and sports teams have been asked to donate the money given to them for "paid patriotism" to organizations supporting veterans and their families.

McCain and Flake said they aren't against patriotic salutes, but they are against taxpayer funds being used to compensate multi-million dollar sports teams. The report said much of the money was doled out without proper supervision.

"Americans deserve the ability to assume that tributes for our men and women in military uniform are genuine displays of national pride, which many are, rather than taxpayer-funded DoD marketing gimmicks," the report said.

The report said the NFL initially downplayed criticism of the practice but has now called on all its clubs to stop accepting money for patriotic events.

Some of the biggest recipients of the Pentagon money included the NFL's Atlanta Falcons who received a total of $879,000 since 2012 and NASCAR which received a whopping $1.5 million this year.

The NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers were paid $27,000 for an on-field swearing in ceremony in 2014, the MLB's Milwaukee Brewers were given $49,000 to sponsor each Sunday performance of "God Bless America" during 2014 home games and the NHL's Florida Panthers were paid $20,000 in 2012 for ceremonial puck drop, color guard demonstrations and the screening of a recruitment film prior to a home game.

The MLS's LA Galaxy were also given $1,500 for a pregame recognition ceremony of five "high-ranking" US air force officers.