WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has signed a presidential memorandum ordering the Pentagon to develop a new policy to allow athletes attending the nation’s military academies to play professional sports immediately after graduating.
The memo says student-athletes graduating from the academies and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps should be able to defer their military service obligations due to the “short window of time” they have to “take advantage of their athletic talents during which playing professional sports is realistically possible.” It gives the defense secretary 120 days to develop a plan.
Trump’s own Department of Defense in 2017 had rescinded an Obama-era policy that allowed the best athletes from the military’s service academies to go directly to the pros upon graduation instead of having to first serve on active duty.
The change, which mandated two years of active duty before an athlete could apply for reserve status to pursue a career in professional sports, came on the eve of the 2017 NFL draft in which Air Force receiver Jalen Robinette was expected to be drafted.
Then-Defense Secretary James Mattis, in an April 2017 memo, said that the service academies “exist to develop future officers,” and that graduates would serve as “full-fledged military officers carrying out the normal work and career expectations” of someone who received an education at the taxpayers’ expense.
Trump said in May that he was considering the change to eliminate the active duty requirement while presenting the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy to the Army football team.
Several Navy football players have gone on to have success in the NFL, most notably 1963 Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach, a quarterback for the Midshipmen from 1962-64. After serving a tour of duty in Vietnam, he joined the Dallas Cowboys in 1969 and guided the team to a pair of Super Bowl victories.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.