Below The Beltway

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Bending The Rules For A Football Star

by @ 9:12 pm on April 29, 2008. Filed under In The News

Caleb Campbell, a senior at West Point, was picked in the 7th round of the NFL Draft on Sunday.

Unlike all of his other classmates, and unlike any other West Point athlete that has been drafted into a professional team, he will be allowed to play in the NFL without having to serve his two years in the military:

It was not until he was a sophomore on the Army football team that Caleb Campbell learned his job after graduation might be something other than as a platoon leader, guiding 32 soldiers in Iraq or in Kuwait.

“When I came to West Point, I wasn’t saying, ‘God, I hope they make a new policy so I don’t have to go to Iraq,’ ” Campbell said Tuesday. “I knew what I was getting into. I initially came to the academy knowing I wanted to be an officer in the United States Army. Playing football was just extra.”

On Sunday, the Detroit Lions picked Campbell in the seventh round of the N.F.L. draft, making him the first Army player to be selected since a new policy was established in 2005 to allow individuals with exceptional skills to pursue their professional careers while remaining on active duty.

The Army’s hope is that talented people, like elite athletes or musicians, can help promote the service and boost recruiting. But the Army has also found itself defending the policy, which drew little attention before Sunday. Before this year, five former West Point athletes were accepted into the program. Campbell will join two Army teammates who signed free-agent contracts at N.F.L. minicamps in the next few days. They are beneficiaries of a policy that allows them to start their playing careers sooner than they would had they played for Air Force or for Navy.

If he makes the Lions’ roster, Campbell will most likely spend his off days and the off-season recruiting for the Army in the Detroit area. But his real job, he said, will be playing football. And that is enough to satisfy the Army.

That’s not the way it used to be:

[T]he experiences of Campbell and his Army teammates will probably be far different from those of former military sports stars, like Roger Staubach in the N.F.L. or David Robinson in the N.B.A. Staubach served five years in the Navy, including a tour in Vietnam, before joining the Dallas Cowboys as a 27-year-old quarterback. Robinson, the former San Antonio Spurs center nicknamed the Admiral, spent two years on active duty with the Navy before joining the N.B.A.

This story has generated no small degree of controversy since Sunday, and I’ve got to count myself among those who think that the Army has made a mistake here. Campbell entered West Point with the expectation that after, four years of education, he’d be serving his country for at least two years — not that he’d be basking in the glory of the NFL and “recruiting” during the off-season.

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