U.S. Senator John McCain criticized NFL owners Tuesday for accepting money from the U.S. military to honor U.S. veterans.
"I think it's really disgraceful that NFL teams whose profits at an all-time high had to be paid to honor our veterans," McCain told reporters.
McCain's colleague, Senator Jeff Flake, also an Arizona Republican, discovered contracts between the New Jersey National Guard and the New York Jets indicating that the Jets received $377,000 between 2011 and 2014 for military salutes on the video board, tickets for veterans and their families and other benefits for veterans.
Flake said the military is paying "some accounts of $5 million over two years, some $5 million just in one year" to NFL teams.
"You go to a game and you see a team honoring 'Hometown Heroes,' and you think it's some sort of public service announcement, that the team is doing it out of the goodness of their heart," Senator Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., told ESPN on Monday. "Then you find out it's paid for? That seems a little unseemly."
McCain and Christie echoed Flake after the Arizona senator criticized the practice. McCain, a former Navy pilot, prisoner of war, and the Republican nominee for president in 2008, targeted owners specifically, according to CNN.
"It's so crass on the part of these football team owners who make enormous profit for them to do that -- I think it's very revealing as to what kind of people they are," McCain said.
New Jersey governor Chris Christie expressed outrage at the exchange as well. He told CNN that teams should not need to receive money to salute members of the armed services:
"If the money was paid to the Jets just for saluting the troops, they should give the money back, because we should be saluting the troops because of what they do for our country."
A national guard spokesman told ESPN that payments to teams are considered recruitment.
"This isn't, as some might think, payment for unfurling a flag or to welcome a soldier home on the field," National Guard spokesman Rick Breitenfeldt said. "This is more about spending for marketing and advertising, for signage, for website takeovers."
A Jets spokesman told ESPN the team's agreement with the National Guard has expired, and the team has not decided whether the relationship will continue.
- Alex Putterman