Taxpayers pay for pro sports tributes

Professional sports teams have collected more than $53 million from the Department of Defense for patriotic displays that cheer the U.S. military. Two U.S. senators who authored a report on the practice decry it as unnecessary and wasteful “paid patriotism.”

Let’s not end displays that recognize the sacrifices of men and women in the U.S. military. But if costs are involved, sports teams, not the Department of Defense, should pay for them.

The report by Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republicans from Arizona, found that heart-warming displays such as honor guards, giant flags and ceremonial first pitches – even the singing of “God Bless America” – came with a bill. Payments were made to professional baseball, football, basketball and hockey teams, as well as NASCAR. They include $18,000 paid to the Pittsburgh Pirates by the Air Force for the performance of the national anthem, a swearing-in ceremony and 250 tickets in 2014.

Among pro football teams, the Atlanta Falcons collected the most money, $879,000 over four years. But it’s not the amount that is problematic, but the practice.

No one can question McCain’s patriotism and love for his country; a Navy aviator for 22 years, he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for more than five years and serves as chair of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee. But he is appalled at the payment of tax dollars to wealthy sports franchises – as every American should be.

Cognizant of how bad the practice looks, the NFL has already asked its teams to stop accepting tax money and said it will conduct an audit and possibly return the funds to the Defense Department. Better, as Sen. McCain has suggested, is to donate the money to veterans’ causes.