The Department of Defense spent a little more than $10 million on sports sponsorship in the past five years, a minuscule fraction of the military budget allocated for box seats, advertising, on-site recruiting, and — controversially — tributes for soldiers. Now the NFL says it will pay back the money its teams received for the latter.
The practice of "paid patriotism" at sporting events came under fire a few months ago, and on Wednesday, Arizona's Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake released a 146-page report detailing exactly how the Department of Defense spent taxpayer money on military pageantry at sporting events. Almost 60 percent of the 122 sponsorship agreements between various branches of the DOD and major-league sports teams contained provisions for displays such as onfield color guard performances and ceremonies to honor soldiers.
"To find out taxpayers are paying for it, it cheapens the whole lot," Flake said. "Also, for the Pentagon, they say there's no fat to cut anywhere. When you look into these marketing contracts and find activities like this that are being paid for, it makes you question that as well."
In a letter to McCain and Flake dated Monday, commissioner Roger Goodell pledged that the NFL would conduct an audit of all contracts between its clubs and military service branches. He said any payments made for activities beyond recruitment or advertising would be refunded in full. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league would complete the audit as "quickly as possible."
NBA spokesman Mike Bass said that while pro basketball teams do occasionally recognize servicemen and women with oncourt ceremonies, "these tributes are not paid for by the military. We will perform an additional review to ensure that this is the case." Officials from the NHL and MLB declined to comment.
Before the 2015 season began, the NFL asked teams to separate military sponsorship from events such as soldier appreciation and community outreach.
ROMO PRACTICES: Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo practiced for the first time since breaking his left collarbone Sept. 20. Romo, who remains ineligible to play until Nov. 22, took part in pat-and-go in warmups, worked through some individual drills and threw passes during the routes-on-air portion of practice.
INJURY ANGERS STEELERS: At least one Steelers player thought running back Le'Veon Bell's season-ending MCL injury Sunday wasn't quite an accident. After Sunday's 16-10 loss to the Bengals, Pittsburgh linebacker Vince Williams sent a threatening Tweet to Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who appeared to celebrate the hit that injured Bell. "I catch Vontez on south beach im painting that boi on sight," Williams wrote in a Tweet that he later deleted. Burfict quickly responded: @VinnyVidiVici98 why wait then u kno were I'm at."
FALCONS: Five players were held out of practice, including three defensive starters: safety William Moore (groin), linebacker Justin Durant (calf) and cornerback Robert Alford (groin). Cornerback Desmond Trufant was limited after leaving last week's overtime loss to the Bucs with a lower-back injury.
49ERS: Coach Jim Tomsula said he benched quarterback Colin Kaepernick this week in the hopes that some time on the sideline will help his long-term growth. "I want Colin to step back and breathe and look at things through a different lens," he said. Tomsula, who formally announced Blaine Gabbert as Sunday's starter, declined to commit to a quarterback after that game.
JETS: Ryan Fitzpatrick will start at quarterback Sunday. Coach Todd Bowles said Fitzpatrick was a full participant at practice despite dealing with a torn ligament in his left thumb.
LIONS: Linebacker DeAndre Levy went on injured reserve after he was limited to one game because of hip trouble.
RAMS: Backup running back Trey Watts was suspended indefinitely for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. It's the second suspension this fall for Watts, who was out the first four games.
RAVENS: Veteran receiver Steve Smith was placed on injured reserve with a torn right Achilles tendon.