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Trump considers restoring rule that military athletes could go pro and delay service

President Donald J. Trump addresses his remarks during the presentation ceremony of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy to the Army Black Knights, the U.S. Military Academy football team, in the Rose Garden Monday, May 6, 2019, at the White House. (Shealah Craighead/White House)
May 07, 2019

President Trump is mulling over a plan to restore military service academy athletes’ ability to play sports at a pro level prior to active duty service.

Under the current Pentagon policy, athletes can attain a waiver that allows them to play sports professionally following two years of active duty, The Hill reported.

“I’m going to look at doing a waiver for service-academy athletes who can get into the major leagues, like the NFL, hockey, baseball. And they’ll serve their time after they’re finished with professional sports,” Trump said during the U.S. Military Academy’s visit to the White House.

Trump said that is a “long time” to wait and feels that the new plan could “make recruiting a little bit easier” for service academy sports programs.

The policy employed by the Pentagon used to allow some athletes the choice to sidestep active-duty service, remaining in the reserves while playing pro-sports, but that was changed by former Defense Secretary James Mattis in 2017.

Trump said loosening the rules for exceptional athletes is “a great idea” and “really fair too.”

CNBC reported that the Pentagon has no intention of making any changes on its “policy of prohibiting service academy athletes from getting deferments from their active-duty service requirements in order to play pro sports.”

Pentagon spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell said, “No service shall make unique or special arrangements pertaining to the initial assignments for [military service academies] or [Reserve Officer Training Corps] graduates that are not typically available to other such graduates.”

Former Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a May 2017 statement, “Our military academies exist to develop future officers who enhance the readiness and the lethality of our military services. Graduates enjoy the extraordinary benefit of a military academy education at taxpayer expense.”

White was referring to the branches of the military that are subsidized by the Defense Department, offering students free tuition and board for serving at least five years in the military.

A number of talented athletes have emerged from the military, including Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach and two-time NBA champion David Robinson, who were both with the Navy. After quarterback Keenan Reynolds was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2016, he was granted a deferment from active-duty service and is now a U.S. Navy Reserve lieutenant.