Unsportsmanlike conduct: Senators blast Pentagon spending on sports

The Arizona Diamondbacks were among the 50 pro sports teams that got Pentagon marketing money to host patriotic events at games, a new report says. (Photo by Elizabeth Blackburn/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Patriotic events at many pro sporting events around the country were paid for with Defense Department marketing funds, an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars that cheapens the honor of the event, lawmakers said.

Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake released a 146-page report that showed $6.8 million had been spent since fiscal 2012 on events such as color guards, ceremonial first pitches or puck drops by soldiers, and re-enlistment ceremonies.

“There’s a lot of good things that professional sports do to honor the men and women who serve in the military,” McCain said. “But these millions of dollars are not an acceptable expenditure of taxpayers’ dollars.”

The money went to 50 franchises in all four major sports leagues, as well as NASCAR and collegiate athletic events. The Arizona Diamondbacks were among the recipients, getting $40,000 from the National Guard in 2014 for events that included a ceremonial first pitch and an on-field oath ceremony, among other marketing efforts.

A team spokesman said Wednesday that “the Army National Guard approached us to find a way to increase its enlistment and we provided numerous visible marketing tactics to help them accomplish that goal.” He said the two-month program has since been discontinued.’

The Pentagon has also reined in the program, and the NFL announced Wednesday that it would return any inappropriate paid patriotism funds.

McCain and Flake, who were able to insert language into this year’s Defense Department budget limiting the practice, have introduced legislation that they hope will make a ban permanent. In the meantime, they are suggesting that teams that took the cash should give it to veterans or military support organizations.