Football players at the three service academies — Army, Navy and Air Force — haven’t always had a direct path to the NFL. Some, like Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, have had to serve in active duty for five years before playing pro football. Others, like former Raiders running back Napoleon McCallum, have been allowed to play football while also serving in the military, but had to take seasons off when their military service required. And still others, like Ravens rookie Keenan Reynolds, have been cleared to go straight to the NFL without military service getting in the way.
A new Department of Defense policy will allow all players to follow Reynolds’ path to the NFL.
The new policy, obtained by the Colorado Springs Gazette, states that service academy graduates with offers to play pro sports can serve in the reserves, rather than active duty, so that they can pursue their athletic careers. The new policy will make it much easier for players to go directly to the NFL after playing football at Army, Navy and Air Force.
The policy will also make star high school athletes with NFL dreams more likely to consider the service academies. It’s currently rare for top recruits to even consider Army, Navy or Air Force.
Not everyone thinks that’s a good idea. After Reynolds was granted permission to go straight to the Ravens rather than serving in active duty first, retired Army lieutenant colonel Tom Slear wrote in the Washington Post that the reason the taxpayers pay for tuition-free service academy education is to strengthen America’s armed forces, not to provide the NFL with future players.
“They exist to instill young men and women with a mind-set of selfless service to the country. There is no other justification for the significant public expense that supports them,” Slear wrote, “Professional football, on the other hand, is about service to oneself. It has its place, but not for academy graduates who haven’t fulfilled their obligations to their fellow citizens. Each time one of them leaves early, the ethos diminishes a bit, and the taxpayers are cheated.”
Those concerns aside, Reynolds is going straight to the NFL. And more service academy players will follow.