Just days before the annual Army-Navy football game, lawmakers are sending a message to academy athletes reminding them that their service commitment comes before any professional sports stardom.
This week, congressional leaders included as part of their annual defense authorization bill compromise language stating that skipping out of a mandatory two years of active-duty service after graduation from a service academy constitutes a “a breach of agreement to serve as an officer.”
Since 2019, Defense Department leaders have allowed some athletes to apply for a waiver to play professional sports immediately after graduation, a process that delays their active-duty service. Lawmakers now want to put a stop to that.
In explanatory language for the authorization bill, they called the current policy governing academy athletes “contorted” and said that granting exceptions to the rules goes against the principles of what the schools are designed to do.
“Service academy appointments are a zero sum game,” they wrote. “Every appointment that goes to a graduate who does not complete his or her active-duty service obligation to pursue professional athletics could have been awarded to many other qualified young people who would have happily served their country.”
The potential change in rules regarding academy athletes looms large for Army linebacker Andre Carter II, seen as a likely early-round pick in next year’s National Football League draft.
The Black Knights have only produced two NFL draft picks since 1969, both in the seventh and final round. Carter has been viewed by some scouts as a potential first-round draft pick. But the new authorization bill language could change that rating, given the uncertainty over his availability to play over the next few years.
“It’s a great opportunity to go to this school,” Carter, a senior from Missouri City, Texas, told NFL reporters when asked about life at West Point. “Not many people have that opportunity, so it’s something that I really value and cherish.”
One day after the authorization bill language was released, the Philadelphia Phillies acquired former Naval Academy pitcher Noah Song from the Boston Red Sox.
Boston had selected Song in the fourth round of the 2019 Major League Baseball draft — the highest a Naval Academy baseball player had ever been picked — but he has been unable to play for the last few years because of his service commitment.
Lt. Junior Grade Song graduated from flight school earlier this year, and applied for a waiver to play professional sports shortly thereafter.
Congress is expected to finalize the authorization bill, which includes $817 billion in defense spending policy issues for fiscal 2023, in the next few days.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media