Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain ripped NFL owners as “disgraceful” for taking taxpayer money from the U.S. military to honor veterans at sporting events.
“I think it’s really disgraceful that NFL teams whose profits at an all-time high had to be paid to honor our veterans,” McCain told reporters on Tuesday.
He said he planned to take up the issue when he considers the annual defense bill in his committee soon.
McCain’s Arizona Republican colleague, Sen. Jeff Flake, uncovered public documents detailing marketing contracts between 2011 and 2014 totaling $377,000 between the New Jersey Army National Guard and the New York Jets. The documents specify that the funds covered “Hometown Hero” salutes on the billboards at the stadium, tickets for veterans and their families to attend games, and costs of veterans attending kickoff events with Jets players.
“We just kind of stumbled on this, but it turns out that we’re paying a lot of money, some accounts of $5 million over two years, some $5 million just in one year, and we’re really trying to find out what those figures are and what they’re used for,” Flake said in an interview on CNN on Tuesday.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an exclusive interview on Tuesday that the Jets should give the money back to the National Guard.
“If the money was paid to the Jets just for saluting the troops, they should give the money back, because we should be saluting the troops because of what they do for our country,” he said.
Flake sent a letter on Monday to Defense Secretary Ash Carter and the head of the National Guard asking for detailed information on marketing and promotional contracts between various branches of the military and all of the professional sports and collegiate sports teams.
The National guard and other branches of the military frequently use sporting events to mount recruiting efforts, an expense that Flake says could be appropriate, but he suggested it may not be effective.
“Unless they can demonstrate some ability to actually recruit with this money, then they shouldn’t be spending it. And I, myself, I’m pretty skeptical,” Flake said.
McCain, a Navy pilot who was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, didn’t mince words when asked the contracts.
“It’s so crass on the part of these football team owners who make enormous profit for them to do that – I think it’s very revealing as to what kind of people they are,” McCain said.
The House is voting this week on the annual defense bill this week, and Senate action on its version is expected soon.
With McCain’s involvement it’s likely the issue could be addressed when the two chambers work out a final bill. But Congress could also move to strip out money for future contracts with sports teams for these activities in future spending bills that fund the Pentagon.
CNN’s Jake Tapper contributed to this report.