NFL to return more than $700K to government after 'paid patriotism' audit

NFL to return more than $700K to government after 'paid patriotism' audit
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The National Football League (NFL) is returning more than $700,000 to the government after an audit of its Defense Department marketing contracts found that the money was used to pay for activities meant to honor the military.

The NFL-commissioned audit was done in response to a report last year by Republican Arizona Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands Another recession could hit US in 2019, says credit union association chief R-E-S-P-E-C-T: One legacy of Franklin and McCain is up to us MORE and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGrassley: No reason to delay Kavanaugh hearing Dem senators back Kavanaugh accuser's call for FBI investigation Kavanaugh accuser says FBI should investigate before she testifies MORE, which slammed the Pentagon contracts as “paid patriotism.”

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“The NFL's longstanding relationship with the military, our veterans and their families is one of the deepest and most important to the league,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a letter to McCain and Flake released Thursday. “Our respect for the work of America's servicemen and women is reflected in a wide variety of activities.”

McCain and Flake’s report, released in November, found that the Pentagon paid $6.8 million to the NFL and other sports leagues for patriotic events. The events included performances of “God Bless America,” honoring hometown heroes and unfurling full-field flags.

The practice of paying for such activities was outlawed with last year’s National Defense Authorization Act.

But Goodell, who has separately come under congressional fire for the league’s handling of head injuries, promised after the report to do an audit and return any money that was found to have paid for such activities.

In total, the audit identified $723,734 in 100 agreements from the 2012 to 2015 seasons that could be construed as paid patriotism.

In addition to prompt return of the money, Goodell promised to take measures to ensure the payments don’t happen again.

“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,” he wrote.

McCain and Flake praised Goodell’s response.

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

Other leagues identified in the report should follow the NFL’s lead, McCain said.

“I applaud the NFL’s audit in response to our oversight investigation into ‘paid patriotism.’ Returning the $723,000 is the right thing to do,” McCain said in a written statement.

“But the NFL is only one of several sports leagues we identified that accepted money from the Pentagon in return for honoring our troops. The other organizations — Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer — should also conduct an audit and return the money or donate it to service members, veterans and their families.”