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Former Navy Football player Cameron Kinley approved to pursue pro football, delay active duty service

Cameron Kinley. (U.S. Naval Academy, YouTube screenshot)

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has approved Naval Academy graduate Cameron Kinley’s request to delay his active duty service to pursue professional football.

Kinley, who is back at the academy serving on temporary assignment duty, posted the news to his Twitter feed late Tuesday afternoon.

“Today I was informed the Secretary of Defense will be allowing me to continue my journey with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,” Kinley said. “I am extremely appreciative of Secretary Austin’s decision and I am excited to represent our fine military in the National Football League.”

Fox News Pentagon correspondent Lucas Tomlinson broke the news around noon on Tuesday via Twitter, citing sources. Kinley responded to Tomlinson’s Twitter post with the message “God’s Plan” and a prayer emoji.

“Sometimes in life, God tell us to be still. We do not always understand what He is trying to show us, but HE always has an ultimate plan,” Kinley wrote in his post. “The most valuable lesson I’ve learned throughout this whole process is to trust His timing and remain confident in the fact that God will always prevail.”

Kinley wrote that this month has been “very challenging” and thanked everyone who has supported him along the way. He expressed special thanks to his agents with Divine Sports and Entertainment, one of whom is former Navy football player Ryan Williams-Jenkins.

“Not only have they done a great job of representing me, but Michael De Sane and Ryan Williams-Jenkins made sure to check on me and ensure that I was keeping my head up,” Kinley wrote.

Austin’s decision means Kinley will be allowed to attend Tampa Bay training camp, which begins July 25. If the Memphis, Tennessee native does not make the 53-man roster, he will be required to return to active duty.

“Lastly, thank you to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization for believing in me and remaining patient throughout this process,” Kinley said. “I am excited to get back to work in Tampa Bay with my teammates.”

Kinley signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent on May 1 and was permitted to attend a mini camp a few weeks later.

However, acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas W. Harker announced in early June that he denied Kinley’s request to delay his military commitment and ordered him to begin serving as an ensign.

Kinley subsequently commissioned as an officer during Naval Academy graduation on May 28. He is scheduled to serve on temporary assignment duty at the academy until October then will report to the Navy and Marine Corps Intelligence Training Center in Dam Neck, Virginia.

Kinley and former Navy baseball player Charlie Connolly were told three days before graduation that Harker had declined to forward their requests to pursue professional sports to the Secretary of Defense.

In an appearance before Congress on May 15, Harker defended his decision to order Connolly and Kinley to begin serving immediately. Connolly, a right-handed pitcher, had been expected to be taken in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft that begins this Sunday.

Following a week of questions, criticism and backlash, Harker reiterated his belief that academy graduates should not play professional sports before serving their full five-year military commitment.

In an appearance before Congress, Harker said he reviewed the requests from Kinley and Connolly then consulted with Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday and Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger.

“I looked at this case. I looked at the significant investment the taxpayers make in every midshipman and our expectation and their expectation is that midshipman will graduate and be commissioned with the Navy and the Marine Corps,” Harker said told the House Armed Services Committee.

Harker’s stance was in contrast of his counterparts with the Army and Air Force, both of whom gave 2021 graduates permission to pursue the NFL.

Former Army linebacker Jon Rhattigan (Seattle Seahawks) along with three former Air Force players — offensive linemen Parker Ferguson (New York Jets) and Nolan Laufenberg (Denver Broncos) as well as defensive lineman George Silvanic (Los Angeles Rams) — have been approved for the pro sports option.

Rep. Austin Scott (R-Georgia) said during the May 15 congressional hearing that he did not understand why Kinley was denied a waiver while four other recent service academy graduates were granted one. Scott urged Harker to allow Kinley to appeal and vowed to discuss the case with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

“I don’t know if it’s right or wrong, but I do know there should be a uniform standard,” Austin said Tuesday. “If it is an accommodation that is going to be granted to West Point and Air Force Academy grads, it should be an accommodation for Naval Academy grads.”

Lieutenant Emily Wilkin, a Navy spokeswoman, said Connolly remains a commissioned officer and is carrying out the terms of his existing military commitment. He is currently an ensign assigned to the Naval Academy until being transferred to start surface warfare officer training.

In 2019, former President Donald Trump publicly endorsed the Department of Defense policy pertaining to service academy graduates seeking to participate in pro sports, outlined in “Directive-Type Memorandum 19-011.”

Record-setting former Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry became the first service academy graduate to benefit from that new policy. Perry was selected in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins and made the 53-man roster as a wide receiver.

Because he had been drafted by a professional sports organization, Perry received a diploma during Naval Academy graduation but did not commission as an officer. His request to delay active-duty service was officially approved by former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in early June 2020 and he subsequently signed a contract with the Dolphins.

Last month, Pentagon spokeswoman Lisa Lawrence issued a statement making it clear the decision to approve or deny an academy graduate’s request to pursue pro sports lies with the secretaries of each branch of service.

“Under existing guidance, each Service Secretary concerned has the ability to determine what process and factors they will consider in advancing athlete requests to the Secretary of Defense,” Lawrence wrote in the statement. “We defer all questions regarding that process to the Service concerned.”

Kinley remains under contract with the Buccaneers for now and it is unclear if he would be allowed to use leave time to attend summer training camp or other organized team activities. Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said Kinley would be welcome at training camp if allowed to attend.

“I would love to have him back because I thought he showed promising signs when he was here,” Arians said.


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