NFL Returning $723,000 of Taxpayer Funds for ‘Paid Patriotism’

The Patriots alone received $700,000 from the Pentagon.

The National Football League is returning more than $723,000 of taxpayer funds used for sponsored military tributes, a practice dubbed “paid patriotism” by Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told Flake and McCain in a letter Wednesday that the league would return the $723,734 that it says a Deloitte & Touche audit indicated went toward military appreciation fanfare and not recruitment.


“This amount will be promptly returned in full to the taxpayers,” Goodell wrote. “In order to ensure that military appreciation activities remain separate from military recruitment efforts in the future, the NFL will include an assessment of marketing contracts in our regular internal audit reviews going forward, with a specific focus on compliance with current Defense Department guidance.”

Flake and McCain published a damning report in November outlining how multibillion-dollar sports leagues received gobs of money from the Pentagon for these “paid patriotism” displays, while calling for an amendment to the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, effectively banning taxpayer-funded salutes to the troops.

“The [Department of Defense’s] complete lack of internal controls for awarding, managing, and overseeing these contracts puts them at an excessive risk for waste, fraud, and abuse,” McCain and Flake wrote. “Beyond being a question of it this contracting activity reflects appropriate judgment or fiscal stewardship of taxpayer funds, the fundamental question at hand is if this spending reflects appropriate national security priorities.”

The report found that the New England Patriots received $700,000 for the following:

  • Recognition of one Massachusetts Army National Guard (MAARNG) soldier at each home game in fiscal year 2012, 2013, and 2014
  • Four season tickets, four pregame field passes, and one VIP parking pass for each preseason and regular season home game in FY2012, 2013, and 2014
  • 160 general admission tickets and 120 tailgate passes, food and drink included, in FY2012, 2013, and 2014
  • 120 training camp passes since FY2012 and access to a hospitality suite
  • Non-gameday use of “super suite,” food and drink not included, in FY2012, 2013, and 2014

“In all the years I’ve spent rooting out egregious federal spending, the NFL is the first organization to perform due diligence, take responsibility and return misspent funds to the taxpayers,” Flake said in a statement this week. “The NFL’s response to this investigation sets a new standard and only strengthens its reputation as a supporter of our nation’s military service members and veterans.”