The NFL is considering giving back taxpayer money to the Defense Department, as both of Arizona's senators accuse the Pentagon of paying pro teams to stage events honoring the military. They uncovered nearly $7 million in contracts with items they called "paid patriotism."
From an Army reservist singing the national anthem to National Guard members unfurling the American flag, honoring the military is commonplace in professional sports, reports CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford. But some of these events are little more than marketing gimmicks, said Sen. Jeff Flake.
"Fans assume when they see these tributes that it's being done because of patriotism," Flake said. "To find out that the taxpayers are paying for some of these, it just kind of cheapens the whole thing."
According to Flake and fellow Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Defense Department has 122 marketing deals with pro sports teams worth $10.4 million. Seventy-two of those deals had items the two Republicans called "paid patriotism."
The Baltimore Ravens, the fifth biggest recipient of military marketing dollars, got more than half a million dollars from the Maryland Army National Guard for patriotic events at their games. In fact, NFL franchises are pocketing the most money from the government.
The Milwaukee Brewers got $7,500 for award presentations on the field by National Guard members and ceremonial first pitches at three home games.
"The Department of Defense is always saying we're strapped for funds, then we find out that in some cases they're paying for these paid tributes on the field," Flake said.
Flake said some items were outright boondoggles, like the Air Force paying for four sideline season tickets to LA Galaxy games, and the National Guard paying for 40 lower-level center court seats at Indiana Pacers games.
The White House said the spending is justified.
"The Department of Defense would likely say that these kinds of relationships enhance their recruiting efforts," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
The senators said most of the spending covers legitimate recruitment efforts, but not everything.
The professional sports leagues deny being paid for on-field tributes. In a statement, the NBA said: "We will perform an additional review to ensure that this is the case."
Major League Baseball said it has encouraged teams "to take steps to avoid any appearance that they are being paid." The NFL has launched an audit, saying: "If we find that inappropriate payments were made, they will be refunded in full."
The National Hockey League had no comment, but Major League Soccer told CBS News the ceremonies honoring the armed forces are separate from the marketing agreements it signs with the military.
The Pentagon promised to end the practice, and the senators said they are pushing legislation that would ban it.