Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis signed an order Monday rescinding a 2016 policy allowing military service academy and ROTC athletes to be recruited directly into professional sports, chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana W. White announced yesterday.
“Our military academies exist to develop future officers who enhance the readiness and the lethality of our military services,” White said in a written statement. “Graduates enjoy the extraordinary benefit of a military academy education at taxpayer expense.”
The order applies to service academy athletes graduating in 2017, including former Air Force Academy wide receiver Jalen Robinette.
Robinette, Air Force’s all-time leading receiver, was expecting to be a mid-to-late-round draft pick, but went undrafted after the Air Force announced Thursday night, in anticipation of the impending policy change, it would not approve requests for a deferral of active duty, according to USA Today.
Upon graduation and effective with this year’s graduating class, White explained, the newly commissioned officers will serve for their minimum commitment of two years. The department has a long history of officer athletes who served their nation before turning pro, she added, including U.S. Naval Academy graduate Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach, U.S. Air Force Academy graduate Chad Hennings and David Robinson, a Naval Academy graduate.
Staubach graduated from the Naval Academy in 1965 and went on to serve four years of active duty service in the Navy, with one year of overseas duty in Vietnam. He played 11 years in the National Football League as quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, leading the Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories. He was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985, his first year of eligibility.
Hennings graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1988 and flew 45 combat sorties as an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot over northern Iraq in 1991 and 1992 deployments. He went on to play nine seasons as a defensive lineman with the Cowboys, earning three Super Bowl titles.
Robinson, a 1987 Naval Academy graduate, was chosen by the San Antonio Spurs with the first pick in that year’s National Basketball Association draft. After Navy service, he began his pro career with the Spurs in 1989. In a career that stretched to 2003, he earned two NBA titles, as well as two gold medals and a bronze medal as a member of three U.S. Olympic basketball teams.