Dear Taxpayer, In 2013, a roaring crowd cheered as the Atlanta Falcons welcomed National Guard members who unfurled an American flag across the Georgia Dome's turf. Little did those fans-or millions of other Americans-know that the National Guard had actually paid the Atlanta Falcons for this display of patriotism as part of a $315,000 marketing contract. This unfortunate story is not limited to professional football, but is repeated at other professional and college sporting events around the nation. In fact, these displays of paid patriotism are included within the $6.8 million that the Department of Defense (DOD) has spent on sports marketing contracts since fiscal year 2012. Consider this: honoring five Air Force officers put $1,500 into the pockets of the LG Galaxy. In another example, taxpayers footed the $10,000 bill for an on-field swearing-in ceremony with the World Series finalist New York Mets. And the list goes on. By paying for such heartwarming displays like recognition of wounded warriors, surprise homecomings, and on-field enlistment ceremonies, these displays lost their luster. Unsuspecting audience members became the subjects of paid-marketing campaigns rather than simply bearing witness to teams' authentic, voluntary shows of support for the brave men and women who wear our nation's uniform. This not only betrays the sentiment and trust of fans, but casts an unfortunate shadow over the genuine patriotic partnerships that do so much for our troops, such as the National Football League's Salute to the Service campaign. While many professional sporting teams do include patriotic events as a pure display of national pride, this report highlights far too many instances when that is simply not the case. When our offices first discovered this practice, we sought to better understand it from DOD and introduced an amendment to the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act to end these taxpayers funded salutes to the troops. The United States Senate's oversight has worked. DOD has banned paid patriotism and the NFL has called on all clubs to stop accepting payment for patriotic salutes. However, more work remains. Despite our success curbing this inappropriate use of taxpayer funds, DOD still cannot fully account for the nature and extent of paid patriotism activities. In fact, more than a third of the contracts highlighted in this report were not included in DOD's list; instead, our offices discovered the additional contracts through our own investigative work. In the end, two-thirds of the contracts found by our offices or reported by DOD contained some form of paid patriotism. Direct and persistent sunlight is the best way to ensure that such activities are not continued. What follows is not an exhaustive list of all DOD sports marketing contracts, but a selection of clear examples where taxpayers-not the teams-paid for patriotism and VIP perks. It is time to allow major sports teams' legitimate tributes to our soldiers to shine with national pride rather than being cast under the pallor of marketing gimmicks paid for by American taxpayers.
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