On the Washington Examiner.
Lawmakers are pressing forward with a campaign to shame professional sports leagues that have been paid by the Defense Department to be patriotic.
Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake held a press conference on Wednesday to discuss payments made by the Pentagon to the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and the National Hockey League to honor service members at sporting events. Government records indicate the department paid a minimum of $6.8 million to 14 NFL teams between 2011 and 2014 to engage in such activities.
"It's hard to figure, especially when you look at the incomes of some of these professional sports, it's something that we don't understand," McCain told reporters. "We are glad it's going to come to a halt."
Lawmakers had a difficult time ascertaining details surrounding the payments as both the Pentagon and the leagues tried to maintain secrecy. Senators have already amended the National Defense Authorization Act to prohibit the payments, and called on the leagues to donate the money to veterans' organizations.
Flake said the relevant authorities put up resistance from the beginning of the process.
"We came across a contract the New York Jets had with the New Jersey National Guard, so we called them about it," Flake said. "We were asked what an Arizona senator wanted to know about what the New Jersey National Guard was doing. I think that's rude even in New Jersey to say that. So we followed it and figured out what else was going on out there."
McCain reiterated Flake's message. "I want to emphasize it again," McCain said. "The Department of Defense was unusually and especially aggressive in trying to withhold this information from us."
McCain added that the senators could account for only 62 percent of 122 relevant contracts, and 70 percent of more than $10 million that was allocated. He concluded the press conference saying, "Nor do we know if we have the complete story, given the recalcitrance of the Department of Defense."
Asked about the arrangement on Tuesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the president probably wouldn't approve of the payments.
"I don't think so, primarily because I think the fans who are taking off their caps and offering a standing ovation do so not because of a financial interest but because of their genuine appreciation for those soldiers or veterans who are being honored at the stadium," Earnest told reporters. "I'd refer you to the Department of Defense for sort of the propriety of those financial relationships. But I think the kind of reaction that you see from the fans is an authentic one."