NFL Agrees to Reimburse U.S. Taxpayers $720K for 'Paid Patriotism'
A giant American flag is unfurled on the field in honor of military veterans before a NFL football game between the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints at Met Life Stadium Nov. 3, 2013, in East Rutherford.John Minchillo / AP
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The NFL is reimbursing U.S. taxpayers more than $720,000 in so-called "paid patriotism" money that the teams took from the military to allow things like color guard displays and video tributes at pro football games.
In a letter to the two Arizona senators who have led the charge against the practice, Commissioner Roger Goodell said an audit uncovered that over the course of four seasons $723,734 "may have been mistakenly applied to appreciation activities rather than recruitment efforts."
"This amount will be promptly returned in full to the taxpayers," he wrote Wednesday to Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake.
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"These recruitment efforts are intended to be separate and apart from the NFL's longstanding support of the service members and families who have dedicated their lives to serving this great country," Goodell wrote.
Flake and McCain, both Republicans, revealed in November that the Pentagon had "inappropriately" paid up to $6.8 million to both professional and college sports teams to allow rah-rah patriotic displays and performance at games.
In addition to the National Football League, the senators cited Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association, NASCAR, Major League Soccer and several college sports programs.
"Americans deserve the ability to assume that tributes for our men and women in military uniform are genuine displays of national pride, which many are, rather than taxpayer-funded DOD marketing gimmicks," McCain and Flake wrote.
The paid marketing campaigns cast "an unfortunate shadow" over "genuine patriotic partnerships" between the military and pro sports clubs, the senators said.
At the time, Goodell insisted the NFL opposed "the use of recruitment funds for anything other than their proper purpose." He also said his office would do an audit of all contracts between the league's 32 clubs and the military and vowed to refund any inappropriate payments.
McCain applauded Goodell's move in a Tweet.
I applaud @NFL for returning American tax dollars used to honor our troops - time for other leagues to do the same. https://t.co/vLEBOy2qno