President Trump recently signed a Presidential Memorandum authorizing military service academy and Reserve Officer Training Corps graduates to participate in professional sports after graduation.
The new policy, the details and implementation of which are still in development by the secretary of defense’s office, will make it possible for extremely competitive athletes to pursue a career in professional sports.
“Highly talented cadets and midshipmen who receive the extraordinary benefits of an education from an Academy or through a ROTC program at taxpayer expense should be able to both take advantage of the short window of time during which playing professional sports is realistically possible, while also honoring the commitment they have made to our Armed Forces and our country,” said a statement released by President Trump’s office. “This new policy will make that possible.”
Athletes with a Commitment to Country
The service academies and ROTC have always prided themselves on the fact that their athletes are also patriots and scholars who make the commitment to serve their country after graduation rather than pursue a career in professional sports. The statement from the White House did not specify how those affected by the new policy would honor that commitment. Those details will be made clear when the official policy comes out from the Department of Defense (DoD).
The idea behind the change is to allow the service academies to attract more athletic talent and compete at a higher level within college sports. In the past, the requirement to serve in the military immediately upon graduation may have deterred potential applicants who had aspirations to be professional athletes.
Notable Pro Athletes who Attended Service Academies
In the 1960s, future NFL player Roger Staubach attended and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, where he received the Heisman Trophy. Following graduation in 1965, Staubach served as a naval supply officer in Vietnam. He continued to play football during his time and used his leave time to train with the Dallas Cowboys. After his four-year commitment was complete, Staubach joined the Cowboys as a quarterback.
Naval Academy graduate and pro basketball player David Robinson served two years in the Navy before being allowed to sign with the San Antonio Spurs in the late 1980s. Due to his height (and, most likely, his incredible basketball talent), he worked with the Naval Academy superintendent and secretary of the Navy to be commissioned into the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps, which only required a two-year commitment.
The Future of Military Sports
As a service academy graduate, I love to cheer for a winning team. Allowing athletes the option to pursue pro sports after graduation will certainly attract more talent and lead to stronger teams. But, will it ultimately strengthen or weaken the larger military service? Knowing that all of my classmates were destined for service (whether five years or twenty-five years) was a bonding experience while at the Academy, as we kept our eyes on a common goal after graduation. Putting different students on different trajectories may impact that bond.
“The President wants our military to be strong in all respects, even in athletics,” said the White House statement. This change will certainly strengthen sports programs and recruiting efforts.
The new policy will apply to both service academy and ROTC graduates, but the major change in sports programs will likely be at the service academies. The president is hoping that the added flexibility will help top athletic talent consider a spot at a service academy and eventual service to their country, without being required to give up on dreams of becoming a professional athlete.
This will most likely lead to more competitive sports programs at the academies themselves, but it remains to be seen how the change will impact the overall military service that the academies and ROTC intended to prepare students to join.