Paid NFL troop tributes face Senate vote
By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 6, 2015
WASHINGTON — The NFL might soon be pressured for a nearly $7-million donation to the military or veteran charity of its choice.
That is the money the league has reaped during the past three years from the Army National Guard for paid troop tributes during games – a practice that triggered outrage on Capitol Hill when it was revealed earlier this year.
The Senate voted to override a filibuster Tuesday on an annual defense policy bill that would ban the practice and also admonishes the NFL to tally up the taxpayer dollars it has collected and donate an “equivalent amount” to charities. The Senate could have a final vote Thursday on the bill, called the National Defense Authorization Act. It passed the House last week but still faces tough opposition from Democrats and a threatened White House veto.
“Any organization wishing to honor members of the armed forces should do so on a voluntary basis, and the Department of Defense should take action to ensure that no payments be made for such activities in the future,” according to the bill.
The massive defense policy bill goes on to state, “Any organization including the National Football League that has accepted taxpayer funds to honor members of the armed forces should consider directing an equivalent amount of funding in the form of a donation to a charitable organization that supports members of the armed forces, veterans, and their families.”
The Guard announced a “top-down” overhaul of its sports sponsorships and marketing campaigns in June. It had previously cut ties with NASCAR after a sponsorship with the racing league designed to gin up recruitment failed to net new soldiers.
“The National Guard implemented measures before this legislation was introduced to prohibit any form of paid troop tributes and provide more rigid review and oversight of all National Guard procurements,” spokesman Kurt Rauschenberg wrote in an email response to Stars and Stripes. “The National Guard is a strong advocate to building the most optimum internal controls into every process dealing with tax dollars. We want to place emphasis on sensible and cost-effective ways of doing business.”
For now, the future of the ban is tied to the fate of the NDAA. But the White House and Democrats oppose the Republican-supported defense bill because it circumvents a spending cap on defense by funneling an extra $38 billion into an overseas war fund while doing nothing to lift limits on other domestic spending.
A veto of the must-pass annual bill would be rare for a president and could also scuttle the ban on paid troop tributes, which was sponsored by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
The senators, who unveiled the measure in June, decried the tributes as a waste of defense dollars during a time of tight budgets and a marketing ploy by the NFL.
In response, the league said the legislation “paints a completely distorted picture” of its relationship to the military and agreed that any ceremonies to honor troops should not be paid.
Over the past three years, the Army National Guard had contracts with 22 NFL teams as part of marketing campaigns that included half-time tributes to servicemembers, color-guard performances, and appearance fees for players to attempt events honoring local high school staffs and students.
In one example, the Guard paid the New England Patriots $675,000 for advertising that included bringing soldiers onto the field at halftime, according to the senators.
Meanwhile, it faced a $100-million budget shortfall in a soldier pay and training fund.