By Lauren French
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - First it was NASCAR auto racing. Now critics of the Pentagon's spending on sports marketing are focusing on the world of mixed martial arts.
With the Pentagon under pressure to cut some $487 billion in defense spending over the next decade, lawmakers have become increasingly skeptical about the $80 million the military spent on marketing this fiscal year to recruit an all-volunteer force.
Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat from Minnesota, who led a drive last year to halt the military's $7.4 million sponsorship of NASCAR stock car racing, has joined with Republican Representative Jack Kingston of Georgia to try to halt any military sponsorships of professional sports.
Called the "UFC amendment," after the popular martial arts company Ultimate Fighting Championship that pits fighters against each other in contests where kicking, head-butting and punching without gloves are allowed, it would ban all Pentagon sports sponsorships.
"In this difficult fiscal environment, we need to make smart investments and smart cuts," McCollum said. "Taxpayer-funded sponsorships like the Ultimate Fighting Championship are a waste of taxpayer money."
The amendment was included in the fiscal year 2013 defense appropriations bill, expected to come to a vote on Tuesday.
The Army announced last week its plan to end a decade-long sponsorship with NASCAR, citing budget issues.
But the military still sponsors everything from fishing to motorsports in an attempt to draw in new recruits who tune into sports programming. Maj. John Caldwell, the national director for public affairs for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command, said the UFC partnership is an "excellent programming venue" to reach young men who may enlist.
"The objective of our association with UFC is to leverage the warrior lifestyle similarities of our two organizations," Caldwell said in an e-mail to Reuters.
A group of veterans and union members were among the critics, saying UFC sets the wrong tone and values at a time when the military is struggling with high rates of sexual assault and has allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly.
They say some UFC members have used language that degrades women, makes light of rape and disparages homosexuals.
"The Marine Corps should be the first out of this advertising," said Marine Corps veteran Jim DuPont in an interview. "It is not what we should spend government money on."
(Reporting by Lauren French; editing by Todd Eastham)