Military Should ‘Produce Warfighters, Not Professional Athletes’: New Bill Could Change Sports for Servicemen

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed through Congress and now sits on President Joe Biden’s desk for approval. While much has been made about the various aspects of the NDAA by various outlets (such as CNN), from its $858 billion price tag to another $800 million for Ukraine to ending the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for servicemen, there is one aspect that has gone rather under-reported and it could have a major impact on any prospective pro athletes within the military. Tucked away in Section 553 of the NDAA is language that states, that any “agreement by a cadet or midshipman to play professional sport constitutes a breach of service obligation.” That bit of language would all but revoke the Trump-era policy implemented in 2019 that allowed servicemen to apply for a waiver that would then delay their active-duty service obligations so that they could pursue a career in professional sports. As The Associated Press notes, that policy came at the “insistence” of former President Donald Trump. Section 553 of the NDAA notes: “The cadet may not obtain employment, including as a professional athlete, until after completing the cadet’s commissioned service obligation.” According to ESPN, that obligation is five years of active duty and three years in the individual ready reserve. Republican congressman Mike Gallagher, a former U.S. Marine, introduced this amendment, but did tell ESPN that he is cognizant of any current servicemen who “signed up with the understanding that they could apply for a waiver to defer their military service.” That being said, Gallagher didn’t mince words when it came to the crux of why he introduced this amendment in the first place: “US military service academies exist to produce warfighters, not professional athletes.” As stern as that assessment is, Gallagher did also admit that he’s working on a “fix” that could accommodate servicemen who expected the waiver to be available to them. “I will be working with my colleagues to identify a legislative fix that addresses this issue by grandfathering in existing athletes into the current system,” Gallagher told ESPN. Typically speaking, military academies are not known for producing top-end pro athletes. For example, currently in the NFL, there are four Army graduates. Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Cole Christiansen, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Elijah Riley and Seattle Seahawks linebacker Jon Rhattigan have a combine three solo tackles between them. For comparison, backup Arizona Cardinals linebacker Ezekiel Turner has five solo tackles on one of the worst defenses in the league. The fourth current Army grad in the NFL, Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Brett Toth, is listed as a third-stringer. That does not mean, however, that military academies haven’t produced some incredible athletes. New York Yankees legends Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio served in the Navy and Air Force, respectively. San Antonio Spurs legend David Robinson served in the Navy, and is largely regarded as one of the greatest centers to ever play in the NBA. He was even nicknamed “The Admiral.” And of course, how could anyone forget Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman, who tragically died while serving in Afghanistan in 2004. Should this legislation pass as is, the biggest immediate impact it’ll have will likely be on Army linebacker Andre Carter II. Many analysts view him as a late-first or early-second-round pick in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft, which would make him the highest-drafted Army player since 1946. The last Army player drafted in the NFL was in 2008. The aforementioned current Army graduates in the NFL were all undrafted. This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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