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NFL will return taxpayer money used for military tributes

By ADAM KILGORE | The Washington Post | Published: May 19, 2016

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell pledged in a letter to two U.S. senators on Thursday that the National Football League would "promptly" return more than $700,000 teams had been paid to perform military tributes during games.

The NFL received harsh backlash last year when Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, revealed how the Department of Defense paid professional sports teams to host in-game ceremonies as a form of recruitment. The New York Jets, as one example, received $115,000 from the New Jersey branch of the National Guard for a variety of ceremonies, including honoring a "Hometown Hero" during halftime of a game.

In his letter to Flake and McCain, a copy of which the league provided to the Post, Goodell outlined the NFL's various relationships with the military and wrote the league had used an independent firm to audit to how much money NFL teams had received from the Defense Department to pay for ceremonies. Goodell vowed the NFL would pay back all $723,734. Goodell also said the NFL would review future contracts to ensure military advertisements do not mix with tributes.

"In all the years I've spent rooting out egregious federal spending, the NFL is the first organization to perform due diligence, take responsibility, and return misspent funds to the taxpayers," Flake said in a statement. "The NFL's response to this investigation sets a new standard and only strengthens its reputation as a supporter of our nation's military servicemembers and veterans."

Initial reports last year suggested the NFL had received more than $5 million from the Pentagon, which included straightforward advertisements. The NFL's audit, according to Goodell, identified only the money used to buy tributes.

Flake and McCain have no issue leagues accepting advertising money from the Department of Defense, so long as it's clearly an advertisement. Goodell told Flake and McCain the NFL would continue to accept military advertising money.

"Our relationship with the military includes the advancement of recruitment efforts," Goodell wrote in the letter. "The NFL's platform enables the National Guard and various branches of the military to maximize the reach and effectiveness of their recruitment funding. These recruitment efforts are intended to be separate and apart from the NFL's longstanding support of the service members and families who have dedicated their lives to serving this great country."

McCain applauded the NFL but had stern words for other sports league that had engaged in the "paid patriotism" he and Flake brought to light. McCain said the NFL is the only league to have conducted an audit and pledged to return money.

"The other organizations - Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer - should also conduct an audit and return the money or donate it to service members, veterans and their families," McCain said in a statement.

In October, Flake and McCain passed a provision that prohibits the Department of Defense from paying teams to honor military members during games.
 

U.S. soldiers and airmen with the Colorado National Guard participate in the "Salute to Service" pre-game events at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, just before the Denver Broncos host the Miami Dolphins in Denver, Colo., Nov. 23, 2014.
WOLFRAM M. STUMPF/U.S. NATIONAL GUARD

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