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By Michael Gougis
An amendment banning the U.S. military from sponsoring "sporting events or competitors" has been revived and is part of the Department of Defense spending bill heading for debate in Congress.
The amendment, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, was defeated last year. In May of this year, however, Republican Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia agreed to co-sponsor the amendment, and it was attached by a voice vote of the House Appropriations Committee to the proposed $608 billion fiscal 2013 defense spending bill.
The House will debate the defense expenditure bill in the upcoming weeks.
Revival of the legislative amendment may have influenced the U.S. Army's decision to end its sponsorship in NASCAR, where that branch of the military expects to spend more than $8 million this year.
The amendment would ban taxpayer funds from being "¦used to sponsor professional or semi-professional motorsports, fishing, mixed martial arts, wrestling, or other sporting events or competitors," according to a release issued by McCollum's office.
During an interview published in the May 2009 issue of Roadracing World, Sergeant First Class John Metzler of the Recruiting and Retention Command, National Guard Bureau, Advertising Branch--the project manager then in charge of the National Guard's involvement in AMA Pro Road Racing--explained why National Guard sponsored the AMA Pro National Guard Superbike Series and the #54 National Guard Suzuki GSX-R1000 fielded by Michael Jordan Motorsports:
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Supporters of the National Guard's involvement with AMA Pro Road Racing say that the program does more than help promote National Guard and assist with recruitment efforts. For example, proponents say, at-track activities associated with the program give National Guard Soldiers an opportunity to have fun and be involved in an exciting event while feeling good about their commitment to serving their country. The way some proponents see it, helping Soldiers feel good about their service and being able to associate with a program owned by sports icon Michael Jordan can also aid in re-enlistment and may even contribute to reducing the suicide rate among active-duty members of the military.
Meeting National Guard Suzuki rider Roger Hayden, former AMA Pro Champion and current STAR School principal Jason Pridmore and other AMA Pro racers also encourages Soldiers who own motorcycles to wear appropriate personal protective gear and to take their sportbikes to track days on a racetrack, instead of riding fast on the street. Given the high cost of recruiting and training each soldier, the safety benefits alone justify the racing involvement, proponents say.
According to an e-mail from Rick Breitenfeldt, Chief, Public Information Branch, National Guard Bureau Public Affairs, "The Army National Guard values its partnership with Michael Jordan Motorsports.
"Motorsports represent a significant cultural activity in this country making it a perfect vehicle in which to reach our targeted market, 17-35 year olds, further making motorsports sponsorships an ideal vehicle in which to reach those capable and interested in joining.
"The primary purpose of our motorsports sponsorships, to include AMA, is for branding and awareness. National Guard branded AMA events cover 19 events in 14 states. In the 2011 season, this program provided approximately $29M worth of media exposure for the National Guard.
"The National Guard is also provided the opportunity to co-brand with the well recognized Michael Jordan jumpman logo creating popular merchandise that is worn by AMA, Jordan Motorsports and National Guard supporters.
"Most important to our organization, this venue provides the National Guard with important platforms in which to provide our recruiters the ability to interact with the public. At every race, the respective State National Guard is set up to interact with the public, meet potential recruits and to tell the story of the National Guard."
Opponents say that the costs are not justified in any way at a time when the country as a whole and the federal government faces severe budget cuts. The money can be better spent on recruiting efforts with more quantifiable results and in other areas of military activity, they contend.
How much money is at stake specifically with the National Guard involvement in motorcycle road racing is unknown. The National Guard has consistently declined to reveal how much money it spends on AMA Pro Superbike even though the money it spends on NASCAR racing has been widely reported in the general media. The amount National Guard spends includes money for a company experienced in dealing with military contracts, which bids on the program, takes its cut and in turn contracts Jordan Motorsports and Daytona Motorsports Group, doing business as AMA Pro Racing. The total expenditure is probably approaching $10 million a year. McCollum's office says the National Guard spent $121 million on professional sports sponsorships in fiscal 2011 and 2012, including $90 million on motorsports and $20 million on professional fishing.
Congresswoman Betty McCollum's office explains her position on military sponsorships in motorsports:
Media reports on the U.S. Army dropping its NASCAR sponsorship program: