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NFL Teams Will Honor Veterans… For A Price

Apparently, those ubiquitous “support the troops” ceremonies during football games are not as philanthropic as they seem, considering the Pentagon has paid millions for the treatment.

Between 2011 and 2014, the Department of Defense reportedly paid more than $6 million to 15 National Football League teams for things like pre-game salutes to service members, in-stadium advertising and “Coaches Club” seats for soldiers, according to NJ.com, which maintains a full list of the teams that participated in the deals.

The amounts paid to each of the teams over the three-year period ranged from $20,000 for the Miami Dolphins to over $1 million for the Atlanta Falcons, with most recipients collecting several hundred thousand dollars. (RELATED: NFL Gives Up Tax-Exempt Status)

The disclosure has incensed many politicians, who say it is disingenuous — at best — for professional sports teams to claim they are supporting the troops when in fact they are being paid for their overtures.

“If these teams want to really honor our veterans and service members they should be making these patriotic overtures out of gratitude for free,” Republican New Jersey state Sen. Joe Pennacchio told NJ.com, adding that he thinks teams should make good by donating the money to veterans’ organizations.

“For-profit patriotism is slap in the face to the men and women in military who risk everything to fight for the freedoms we all enjoy,” Pennacchio added, calling out the New York Jets for collecting $377,500 from the deals, even while enjoying property tax discounts for a stadium that was built on public land. (RELATED: Super Bowl Shines Spotlight on Stadium Subsidies)

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake has also been critical of the spending, confronting DOD officials over the matter earlier this week in search of an explanation, The Hill reports.

“It is troubling to learn that taxpayer funds are being used to compensate these teams for honoring and recognizing U.S. military service members,” Flake told Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Frank Grass. “Such promotions conjure up feelings of patriotism and pride for most sports fans, and the revelation that these are in fact paid arrangements is disappointing.”

Flake claims his staff has uncovered similar arrangements with teams in almost every major sports league — including Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, NASCAR, Major League Soccer and National Collegiate Athletic Association — and asserted that, “giving taxpayer funds to professional sports teams for activities that are portrayed to the public as paying homage to U.S. military personnel would seem inappropriate.”

The military, for its part, contends the money was well spent, saying that promotions during sporting events drive recruitment. (RELATED: Commentator: NFL Exploits ‘Religious-Like Following’ to Secure Favors From Government)

“Promoting and increasing the public’s understanding and appreciation of military service in the New Jersey Army National Guard increases the propensity for service in our ranks and garners public support for our Hometown Team,” explained New Jersey National Guard spokesman Patrick Daugherty.

Flake, however, is dubious of that claim, and pressed Carter and Grass to identify exactly how much the DOD spends on those deals, and to provide data justifying that cost as an effective recruitment strategy.

Follow Peter Fricke on Twitter

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