Military planes participate in a flyover at Soldier Field in September.

Military planes participate in a flyover at Soldier Field in September. Kiichiro Sato/AP

Senators: Pentagon Shouldn't Pay NFL for Shows of Patriotism

Payments to teams for honoring veterans should end, lawmakers say.

The Pentagon may be barred from paying the National Football League to publicly salute soldiers, hold pregame reenlistment ceremonies, perform on-field American flag rollouts, and more if a band of senators gets its way.

Sens. John McCain, Jeff Flake, and Richard Blumenthal have an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill that would not only end this practice but require NFL teams to return the millions in past payments and give them instead to charities supporting troops, veterans, and their families, McCain said on the Senate floor Thursday. This practice, which has been dubbed "paid-for patriotism" by critics, has cost the DOD nearly $7 million over the last three years, according to McCain.

McCain blasted the practice, saying the teams duped the American public. "Every fan, whether united by team or divided by rivalry, comes together to thank those who have served and sacrificed on our nation's behalf," the Arizona Republican said. "That's why I and so many other Americans were shocked and disappointed to learn that several NFL teams weren't sponsoring these activities out of the goodness of their own hearts but were doing so to make an extra buck."

And for these tributes to be paid for during tough fiscal times is especially jarring, McCain said, as the department can't afford to "waste its limited resources for the benefits of sports leagues that rake in billions of dollars a year."

Flake—an early critic of the payments—took to the floor after McCain, saying the Pentagon has been asked to provide a full account of teams—not just in the NFL—that have received such payments.

Last month, the House passed a "sense of Congress" resolution saying that this practice should end and the money should instead go toward research and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, and that the organizations "should be motivated by patriotism to honor the service of members of the Armed Forces out of their own free will."