Military academy players putting military first is not dumb

Army cadets stand on the field before the start of the Army-Navy football game December in Baltimore. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

An interesting take last week from Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians on the recent Department of Defense policy shift back toward requiring service-academy players to fulfill a minimum two-year military commitment before trying to make a pro roster.

“I think it’s dumb,” Arians said. We promised interesting, not erudite.

All the same, I think I’ll stand on the other side of the room from that argument.

Having long ago given up on the ideal that a college’s primary mission is to educate rather than entertain during a handful of fall Saturdays, can we at least hold onto the rather important work of the military academies? It would be nice if those who graduated from Army, Navy and Air Force spent some meaningful time in a uniform that didn’t have a number on it.

I think that’s rather smart.

Especially given the hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in educating each recruit.

Hard to believe but, yes, there are some ethics that shouldn’t be compromised by football. That may be heresy in this part of the country, but I’ll take my chances.

The policy of what to do with promising service-academy athletes is a regularly shifting one. What got Arians upset was the DOD tilt last month away from allowing football players to sign with teams upon graduation and fulfill their military commitment as a reservist and back toward immediate assignment, just like all the other cadets who occupied the stands at the Army-Navy game.

Thus it was that Air Force’s Samuel Byers was at the Falcons’ rookie minicamp last weekend hoping to make some sort of long-lasting impression before he was to report to Hill Air Force Base in Utah for his first assignment as an acquisitions officer, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.

He was among a handful of players in that position, seven at last count. Byers’ situation was further complicated by a position change – a defensive lineman in college auditioning as an O-lineman.

All those obstacles can be overcome – there is an example on the Falcons’ own roster. Ben Garland played defensive line at Air Force and is a backup Falcons interior offensive lineman. He survived a two-year military hitch before getting back in the football pipeline (although he had to give up dreams of becoming a pilot to jump back into football).

The point is that when a young person accepts a position at one of these academies, he or she it knows full well that it comes with obligations and higher callings.

For those of certain abilities, none of those higher callings include making an NFL practice squad.

You respect the differences between the service-academy player and, say, the SEC one. You salute them. You celebrate them. Because they are too important, you don’t blur them.

Reader Comments 0

13 comments
angelocaggiano
angelocaggiano

Steve Hummer got it right. My son is a graduate of USNA in Annapolis and a former baseball player. Two of his teammates are in the major leagues. Mitch Harris with the Cardinals had to wait 5 years until he fulfilled his military commitment. It did not curtail his pro career though injury has at the moment. Ollie Drake of the Brewers left the academy after his sophomore season and therefore owed no military service. I like Bruce Arians but he's wrong on this one. Military academies are not "normal" universities. The goal of their members is to serve our country, first. USNA is one of the most difficult "schools" to get into in the entire world. The only argument I would add to SH's piece is that if an athlete is chosen for acceptance because he/she is an athlete, that means a possibly better qualified candidate for the/an academy and military service leadership as an officer, was denied a place in favor of the athlete. That is what makes the academies very different from other schools.

kenstallings
kenstallings

As as retired USAF officer, I applaud Steve Hummer for the courage to tell the blunt truth on this.  Football coaches can be somewhat insular at times, and Bruce Arians demonstrated that characteristic quite strongly!


And I predict Hummer, that vastly more people in the AJC market will agree with your views than disagree with them.  I actually think you're working on firm ground here!

AugustaJacket
AugustaJacket

Although they play Division III, there are also the US Coast Guard and Merchant Marina Academies as well.  As a USCGA Alum, I know what it's like to put country first, and my hat is off to the young men and women who choose that route.  They know what they are signing up for, and their honor and integrity keeps them committed to their word.  

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ctfalconsfan
ctfalconsfan

Steve, I totally disagree. These young men are our best and brightest. They will indeed serve our country but first why not allow them a chance of a lifetime, one all kids dream of, playing professional sports? Some of these players may only have a couple years to play at the highest level then could spend many more years in the service.

Allow them to make a roster and serve time in the off season as a reservist. After their pro career is finished they could still serve 2, 4 or how ever many years they had remaining on active duty. 

I can assure you no one goes to the service academies from their senior year in high school thinking they have a chance to go pro otherwise they'd choose another college so obviously these young men have excelled on and off the field so why not reward their efforts by allowing them to continue to strive to be their best in a particular sport.

As a taxpayer I would certainly support these individuals' goals and dreams why won't you Steve?? 

RAM_Mo
RAM_Mo

@ctfalconsfan Disagree wholeheartedly. Service academies exist to produce the next generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. A 2 year active duty hitch is not an impediment to the pro leagues, just ask David Robinson, formerly of the NBA Spurs. Your sentiment that athletes, "only" chose the service academies if they didn't have a chance to go pro sells their patriotism and desire to serve short.  Non Sibi Sed Patriae is the latin motto inscribed over the Naval Academy chapel, meaning "Not For Self, But for Country".  Maybe ctfalconsfan needs a lesson in what that means.  The service academy cadets and midshipmen surely don't....

ShovelPlease
ShovelPlease

@ctfalconsfan  ctfalconsfan, you have no clue as to what our military does or what makes it the highest public calling.  And it's frightening to think that you believe "our best and brightest" should be channeled to professional sports.