President Trump is ordering the Pentagon to rewrite a rule allowing athletes to delay mandatory active service in order to play professional sports directly upon graduation.
“These student-athletes should be able to defer their military service obligations until they have completed their professional sports careers,” Trump wrote in a presidential memorandum issued on Wednesday.
Under existing Department of Defense policy, those enrolled in military academies cannot play sports before serving at least two years in the armed forces.
That requirement, Trump wrote in his memo, deprives some student athletes of “a short window” they have to take advantage of their athletic talents.
During the Obama administration, military academy athletes were able to go right into sports after graduating if they were granted reserve status. But last year, Trump’s own Defense Department revoked that policy.
“Our military academies exist to develop future officers who enhance the readiness and the lethality of our military services,” Pentagon officials wrote in May 2017 announcing rescinding the Obama-era policy. “Graduates enjoy the extraordinary benefit of a military academy education at taxpayer expense.”
Pentagon officials pointed to successful professional athletes who completed the minimum of 25 months of service before playing sports, such as Roger Staubach, Dallas Cowboys quarterback, 1963 Heisman Trophy winner and Naval Academy graduate. Staubach became a professional player after serving a tour in Vietnam.
Proponents of Trump’s order highlight cases like former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who was drafted into the NFL in 2016 after deferring his military service.
It is the first official action Trump has taken to return to the old rule following public comments indicating that the president preferred allowing graduate to defer military service in order to pursue careers in professional sports.
“I mentioned this to the coach, and it’s a big deal,” Trump said in May when the West Point football team visited the White House. “Can you imagine, this incredible coach with that little asset because I would imagine that would make recruiting a little bit easier.”
In his order, Trump said that the new policy should not be seen as a way out of active duty service.
“These student-athletes should honor the commitment they made to serve in the armed forces,” Trump said.
Trump’s memo gives the defense department 120 days to devise a new rule.
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