DoD: Military athletes can no longer defer commitment to play pro sports
By Charlsy Panzino
Army's Jeff Ejekam makes a catch during an NCAA college football game against Air Force in West Point, N.Y., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. (Josh Conklin/Times Herald-Record via AP)
The Defense Department rescinded its revised pro sports policy less than a year after the 2016 change allowed military athletes to defer active-duty service so they could play professional sports.
DoD officials released the news on Monday, four days after Air Force Academy athletes hoping to be drafted into the National Football League found out the Air Force wouldn't approve waivers that would allow the cadets to join the Ready Reserve and sign with a football team.
Graduates from the service academies will serve as officers for their minimum commitment of two years, according to Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White. The memo from the Pentagon, which cancels a May 5, 2016, memo, also affects recently commissioned ROTC graduates.
"Our military academies exist to develop future officers who enhance the readiness and the lethality of our military services," White said in a statement. "Graduates enjoy the extraordinary benefit of a military academy education at taxpayer expense."
Last year, DoD eased up on the previous policy and began allowing academy athletes to apply for the Ready Reserve in order to defer their two-year active-duty commitment. The applications still needed to be approved, and there was no guarantee of a deferral, the Denver Post reported.
"The department has a long history of officer athletes who served their nation before going to the pros," White said in the statement, referencing Naval Academy graduates Roger Staubach and David Robinson, and Air Force Academy graduate Chad Hennings.
The Air Force alerted academy officials of the change right as football players from the school were getting ready for the 2017 NFL Draft.
"The Air Force Academy released a statement from the Air Force prior to the NFL draft this week so NFL teams would be aware that the service would no longer support these requests and they could conduct their business in good faith, as Air Force Academy cadet Jalen Robinette was the lone NFL Draft prospect from any of the academies," the Air Force said in a statement.
Robinette, a wide receiver on the Air Force football team, was shocked by the news, according to the Denver Post. He had spent much time balancing his academy responsibilities with training for the draft.
He will have an opportunity to pursue his "professional athletic goals after serving two years" as an officer in the Air Force, the statement said.
"The Air Force Academy places tremendous value on our cadet athletes and their contributions to the nation as we continue to build leaders of character, engage in combat operations and continue to ensure our highest military readiness at home," Lt. Col. Allen Herritage, the academy's director of public affairs, said in an email.
The Air Force Academy football team will be honored as winners of the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy on Tuesday at the White House. The trophy goes to the winner of the annual service-academy football rivalry. Air Force beat both Army and Navy this season, according to The Gazette.