Lieutenant (junior grade) Eric Kettani got some disheartening news from the Navy.  His saga is described in detail in a recent Navy Times article.  Long story short: He attended the U.S Naval Academy where he played football, served two of his required five years in the fleet, and now wants out so he can pursue his dream of playing in the NFL.  Call him the anti-Tillman.

The Navy said, “Nice try, now get back aboard your ship.”

The argument in favor of letting Kettani skip the rest of his commitment goes like this:  A ridiculously small percentage of college football players are talented enough to play in the NFL.  An even smaller percentage of service academy players can make that cut. By allowing those one-in-a-million cases to pursue their dream, the service academies can attract a much larger number of student-athletes to attend their schools. 99% of them will fulfill their commitment when the NFL doesn’t offer them a spot.   Recruiting extremely athletic people is a good strategy for a military organization, especially when the pool of qualified applicants seems to be dwindling in this country.

This must be the logic used by the Air Force and Army, who have recently waived commitments from their academy graduates who have opportunities to play professional sports.  Kettani’s agent has raised this as an issue, citing some sort of double standard.  His real issue is that his client is being held to a standard at all.

Because here’s where the previous argument falls short:  athletic ability, while a highly sought after attribute in the Navy, even in today’s technologically advanced military, is not even in the top three in our list of desired character traits.   The Navy’s core values are “Honor, Courage, and Commitment”, not “Honor, Courage, and Run the 40 in 4.5 seconds”.

Or to quote a Senior Enlisted Advisor who gave a talk to my class at Command and Staff College, “No amount of ability will make up for a lack of integrity.”

The Navy Times writes, “While he likes Navy life, he’s concerned that the Navy just yanked his best chance to play in the NFL.”  Besides the incredible sense of entitlement that statement exudes, it misses the larger point that those of us who go to college on an ROTC scholarship or attend a Service Academy and fulfill our commitments have also forgone other professional opportunities.  One might argue that, unlike becoming a doctor or lawyer, there is a short window for Kettani to pursue his dream.  If he waits another three years, it will be too late to play in the NFL.

Tell that to Roger Staubach.  The Dallas Cowboys drafted him in 1964, but he didn’t play for them until 1969, after he completed his full commitment to the Navy, including a one year tour in Vietnam.  But of course, Ensign Staubach understood the real meaning of “America’s Team.”

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