Acting SecNav Doubles Down on Denying Naval Academy Grad's NFL Request

Navy cornerback Cameron Kinley waits for the snap against Air Force.
Navy cornerback Cameron Kinley waits for the snap against Air Force during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Cameron Kinley, an ensign and president of his graduating class at the Naval Academy, will not be allowed to appeal a decision that he start serving immediately in the Navy rather than play in the National Football League.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker told Congress Tuesday that he, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday and Gen. David Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps, reviewed Kinley's request to defer his military service so he could play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but decided to deny it.

Instead, Kinley, who signed with the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent, must report immediately for duty, according to the May 25 final decision.

"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 midshipmen will graduate and be commissioned with the Navy and the Marine Corps," Harker said.

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In 2019, President Donald Trump, whose administration had previously gotten rid of the waiver process altogether, reversed the decision, allowing service academy graduates to defer their service obligations to play professional sports.

But the decision to grant waivers falls to the service secretaries.

This year, one cadet-athlete from the U.S. Military Academy and three from the U.S. Air Force Academy received deferrals and are training with NFL Teams. Jon Rhattigan, a West Point graduate, is a rookie linebacker with the Seattle Seahawks, and Air Force Academy graduates Nolan Laufenberg, Parker Ferguson and George Silvanic have signed as free agents with the Denver Broncos, New York Jets and Los Angeles Rams, respectively.

A 2020 Naval Academy graduate, quarterback Malcolm Perry, was allowed to join the Miami Dolphins last year.

But Kinley, a standout cornerback, will need to serve five years on active duty to meet his obligation.

Harker noted that the Naval Academy's most famous football player, Roger Staubach, served before becoming a legendary quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Likewise, former San Antonio Spurs basketball player David Robinson served for two years on active duty under a deal struck with then-Navy Secretary John Lehman.

Kinley told the Washington Post that he wants to serve but "felt like somebody had snatched away" a piece of him when he learned the news.

"It goes back to just all the hard work and all the adversity I had to overcome to get to that point. And for somebody to just be able to take that opportunity away from me, it just didn't sit well, especially with no explanation," Kinley said.

Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., said he didn't understand why Kinley was denied a waiver while the others were granted one. He implored Harker to allow Kinley to appeal and pledged to discuss the case with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

"I don't know if it's right or wrong, but I do know there should be a uniform standard. 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," Scott said.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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