No one can question Cameron Kinley’s ambition. Appearing prior to the 2021 NFL Draft on “Good Morning Football,” the U.S. Naval Academy’s 2021 class president and Midshipmen cornerback discussed dreams of wearing an NFL uniform and one day becoming president of the United States.
Kinley took a significant step toward realizing one of those goals when the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed the cornerback as an undrafted free agent. But after a successful rookie minicamp, the Tennessee native who compares his tall build to three-time first-team All-Pro Richard Sherman was informed by U.S. Navy officials that his waiver request to postpone his looming five-year service window had been denied.
Emotions run high among Midshipmen on the day of graduation, but for the usually upbeat Kinley, the occasion was inevitably subdued — solemn, even — after receiving the news.
“I have spent the past week processing my emotions, as it is very difficult to have been this close to achieving a childhood dream and having it taken away from me,” Kinley said.
“Unfortunately, due to the decision I am unable to continue playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I have hopes that this situation will soon be overturned and that I can get back to competing on the field and representing the U.S. Navy.”
There are currently four other academy graduates of the class of 2021 chasing spots on NFL rosters. The Seahawks signed West Point grad Jon Rhattigan, while the Broncos, Rams and Jets signed Air Force graduates Nolan Laufenberg, George Silvanic, and Parker Ferguson, respectively.
Each has had their waiver request approved.
“While I acknowledge that these men are from different branches of the armed services, it puzzles me as to why I am the only person to be denied this opportunity,” Kinley said.
When reached for comment, a spokesman for acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas W. Harker told Navy Times the Navy secretary “declined to forward requests from recent Naval Academy graduates to the Secretary of Defense, seeking to delay their commissions.”
“Admission to the Naval Academy is an extensive and competitive process,” Capt. Jereal Dorsey said. “The mission of the Naval Academy is to develop young men and women to commission as officers in the Navy or Marine Corps. When students accept admission and continue their education in this program, there is an understanding and acknowledgement that they will upon graduation be commissioned. Every Midshipman attends on the same terms and each has the same responsibility to serve. Exceptions to that commitment to serve have been rightfully rare.”
Kinley, who has been commissioned as an ensign, will not have an opportunity to appeal the decision, according to Ryan Williams-Jenkins, who represents Kinley via Divine Sports and Entertainment.
“He wants to fulfill both of his childhood dreams,” Williams-Jenkins said, “playing in the NFL and honorably serving his country.”
A number of professional athletes have served in uniform before going on to a career in professional sports, including U.S. Naval Academy graduates Roger Staubach, who won two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, and NBA Hall of Fame-inductee David Robinson, a two-time NBA champion and 1995 MVP with the San Antonio Spurs.
As news of the Navy’s decision spread, Kinley thanked his growing number of supporters, saying, “It’s in God’s hands and I’m at peace knowing that He has a plan for all of this.”
“I am very aware of the commitment that I made to service when I first arrived at the United States Naval Academy. I look forward to my career as a naval officer in the information warfare community. However, I am deserving of the opportunity to live out another one of my life-long dreams before fulfilling my service requirement.”
J.D. Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.