President Donald Trump announced Monday he may reverse a Defense Department rule which requires athletes from the service academies to fulfill their active-duty requirement before pursuing a professional sports career.
The comments came during the annual presentation of the Commander-in-Chief trophy for the best military academy football team. The Army Black Knights won the award for the second year in a row, the first time it has claimed the award in consecutive years.
While praising the accomplishments of the athletes, Trump said that he has spoken to Defense Department officials about some accommodations for service academy athletes who are recruited to play professionally.
“I am going to look at doing a waiver for service academy athletes who can get into the major leagues: the NFL, hockey, baseball,” he said. “They can serve their time after they are done with professional sports.”
Trump added that “I would imagine that would make recruiting a little bit easier” for the service academy coaching staffs. The president said he came up with the idea during the annual Army/Navy football game, which he attended last December.
In 2016, the Defense Department adopted a new policy allowing some service academy athletes to request to be placed on reserve status to allow them to accept contracts from professional sports teams. The move allowed them to fulfill their five-year requirement of service after graduation without being assigned to an active-duty post.
Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round of the NFL draft that year, and received permission to play with the team on a reserve assignment.
But a little more than a year later, military leaders rescinded that policy, saying that all graduates would serve as military officers for at least two years before any accommodations would be allowed.
Former Air Force wide receiver Jalen Robinette was considered a possible NFL draft prospect before the 2017 event, but went undrafted after the rule change was announced. In recent months, with his two-year commitment completed, he has been working towards landing a roster spot with a professional team.
Last month, the Minnesota Vikings selected Air Force long snapper Austin Cutting in the seventh round of the 2019 National Football League draft. Service officials said he will have to finish his two-year commitment before joining the team. Cutting said he is discussing the situation with Air Force officials but prepared to begin his active-duty service.
Trump did not offer any specifics on the timing of the policy change or what the specific requirements for the waivers may entail.
Along with Cutting, three other service academy graduates are currently on NFL rosters: San Francisco 49ers guard Ben Garland, a former airman; Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former soldier.; and New England Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona, who still serves as anaval reservist. Three airman are also on minor league baseball rosters: pitcher Griffin Jax, outfielder Zach Reks, and pitcher Ben Yokley.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.