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The NFL ‘pays’ for its patriotism

(Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

There are certain things that are supposed to be altruistic, but when big business gets involved the line can get blurred.

The issue as usual with Roger Goodell’s NFL is transparency and the failure to reveal those touching military tributes you often see at your favorite team’s games on Sundays are, for the most part, being paid for by the taxpayers not a league that generates more than $9 billion a year.

The scope of this program was detailed in a Senate report released Wednesday that described the spending by the Department of Defense as “inappropriate and frivolous,” criticizing the Pentagon for failing to properly disclose the details of its various deals around the country.

“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,” Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, the report’s co-authors, wrote.

The report was spawned last spring when a whistle-blower alerted the senators that the weekly “hometown hero” tributes hosted by the New York Jets and New England Patriots were being paid for by taxpayer money. When McCain and Flake asked the Pentagon for the financials, the DOD revealed it had spent $53 million as part of a program to promote the armed services and boost recruitment through patriotic events, game tickets and other methods with various sports teams 2012 and 2015.

The senators also claimed the Pentagon was unable to accurately account for how many contracts it had awarded or how much it had actually spent.

To be fair, if you ever want to do the research and cull through any of this country’s past budgets — no matter whether a Democrat or Republican administration was leading the way — there are certainly tens of thousands of examples of more wasteful spending in a system built like a 1950s version of radio payola.

That said, the assumption by most who slide through the gates at an NFL stadium is that the home team is funding that surprise welcome home celebration or the unfurling of the giant American flag when in fact on most occasions they are the ones actually footing the bill.

It would also be easy to take a run at McCain and Flake and highlight some of the frivolous spending they’ve approved over the years, but that’s how politics work. If you get noticed by the wrong powerful person in Washington and it becomes a cause for him or her, well you’ve got problems.

And McCain, as a decorated war veteran, has a problem with the DOD, and by association, the NFL and other professional sports leagues, who are peddling propaganda cloaked in patriotism.

Once alerted to the investigation the DOD did scale back what the senators called “paid patriotism” but that wasn’t good enough for McCain and Flake, who still want the government to account for all of its previous spending in these kinds of sales pitches. Furthermore the senators plan a push to ban the practice in the future with a new defense appropriations bill.

While the main culprit here is clearly the DOD, McCain and Flake didn’t let the pro teams which willfully took the Pentagon’s money off the hook, instead stepping up to the bully pulpit to “ask” that the teams donate any funds garnered in this matter to approved organizations that help veterans and active military personnel.

“What is upsetting is that when you see activities like this, that people assume when they go to games are paid for out of the goodness of their heart by the owners and the teams, then to find out the taxpayers paid for it, it kind of cheapens the whole lot. And that’s simply not right,” Flake explained at a press conference.

It isn’t right and Goodell, a powerful man himself now well-versed in the effects of scandal and what its done to the reputation of 345 Park Avenue, acquiesced, quickly responding to what was nothing more than an extortion attempt coming from a friendly, more politically correct kind of mob boss.

Despite the fact that the NFL had done nothing wrong in a legal sense, Goodell penned the senators to say his league opposed “the use of recruitment funds for anything other than their proper purpose.”

The commissioner also pledged an audit of all the contracts between the league’s 32 teams and the military, and promised to refund any inappropriate payments.

Forced selflessness is better than nothing.

— John McMullen is a national football columnist for TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen@phanaticmag.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the NFL Wraparound on ESPN South Jersey.

Also check @JFMcMullen on Twitter for John’s upcoming appearances on YAHOO! Sports Radio, FOX Sports Radio, YAHOO! Sports Radio Indiana, Omaha’s The Zone, Mobile’s WNSP, Baltimore’s 105.7 The Fan, 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, 92.9 The Game in Atlanta, The Score 1260 in Syracuse, Sirius’ Mad Dog Sports Radio, ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati, TSN 1290 in Winnipeg, TSN 690 in Montreal and WNSR in Nashville.



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