Many U.S. troops can still watch NFL games during government shutdown

A sign announces the closure of the Library of Congress after President Trump and Congress failed to reach a deal on funding for federal agencies. (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

American military personnel will be able to watch NFL conference championship games Sunday despite the government shutdown that halted broadcasts on American Forces Network, the military’s broadcast provider.

In its place, the NFL will provide access to its streaming service, NFL Game Pass, at United Service Organizations facilities worldwide, an NFL spokesperson said Saturday afternoon. The league said it was working on additional means by which other troops also could watch the games.

USO facilities will cover some, but not all, military personnel looking for NFL action. The facilities are common on military installations, but some locations, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, may not have access to high-speed Internet necessary to stream the games.

Other military installations, such as Navy ships, may only have access to AFN, but not a USO outpost.

The AFN is commonly the only portal for servicepeople to access American television while stationed abroad. NFL broadcasts routinely show soldiers saluting during the national anthem or cheering on their favorite teams while watching games shown on AFN.

But while the government is shut down, the network, based at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland, will not operate.

“Under a government shutdown, sports broadcasts are not considered an essential activity. We are looking for creative solutions to continue to provide our troops with some of the comforts of home,” Dana White, the chief Pentagon spokesperson, told CNN. “We hope Congress will come to a resolution, support our troops and pass a budget.”

The Patriots will host the Jaguars at 3:05 p.m., and the Eagles will host the Vikings at 6:40 p.m., Sunday.

Talks aimed at ending the shutdown continued Saturday on Capitol Hill. It is the first time a furlough of federal employees has occurred under single-party control of Congress and the White House.

It does not appear the shutdown will affect security preparations for the Super Bowl, which will be held Feb. 4 in Minneapolis.

“FBI operations are directed towards national security and violations of federal law, and must be able to continue during a lapse in appropriations,” the FBI said in a statement. “As such, all FBI agents and support personnel in field offices are considered excepted from furlough.”

That includes agents working on Super Bowl security checks and counterterrorism measures, said James J. Wedick, a retired FBI agent of three decades and security consultant.

He worked through the 1995 government shutdown and said the bureau’s day-to-day operations are virtually indistinguishable from when federal agencies are funded.

“What will be disappointing to some degree is that it will affect other [parts] of government,” he said. “So if we’re [the FBI] relying on something, we might have to extend additional resources because something we were counting on isn’t there anymore.”

Mark Maske and Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.

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