After four years as a standout at the U.S. Naval Academy, Cameron Kinley signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in May as an undrafted rookie free agent. But when the Bucs start mandatory minicamp Tuesday, Kinley won't be there. He will instead be required to immediately commission for the rank of ensign.
Cadets who attend the Naval Academy commit to active-duty military service after graduation. A 2019 policy directive allows for graduates pursuing a career in professional sports to delay their commission if approved by the defense secretary. Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas W. Harker denied Kinley's request and won't permit him to appeal the decision.
Harker declined to forward any exception requests from recent Navy graduates to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, a spokesman for Harker told Yahoo Sports on Monday.
"Following discussions with senior Department of Navy leadership and in accordance with existing Department of Defense policy, acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas W. Harker declined to forward requests from recent Naval Academy graduates to the Secretary of Defense, seeking to delay their commissions," Capt. Jereal Dorsey said in a statement.
Agent: 'He wants to fulfill both of his childhood dreams'
Kinley's agent Ryan Williams-Jenkins, who attended and played football at the Naval Academy, criticized the decision in a statement. He said:
"As a Naval Academy graduate, football player, and decorated combat veteran I understand Cameron's commitment. I also understand there are ways he can fulfill his commitment while representing the Navy and playing professional sports. I played with three-time Super Bowl champion Joe Cardona, who still serves our country as a Navy reservist.
"If there is a directive and precedent allowing other service academy athletes to pursue this opportunity, what makes Cameron different? It is important to note that this could have a long-term impact on his mental health going forward. He wants to fulfill both of his childhood dreams, playing in the NFL and honorably serving his country."
Kinley: 'Difficult' to have 'dream taken away from me'
Kinley was the captain of the football team at Navy and his class president. A cornerback, he played four seasons for the Midshipmen, tallying 88 tackles, 12 passes defended, a forced fumble and an interception. He expressed his disappointment in a statement Monday.
“Recently, I was informed that my request to delay my service in order to play in the NFL was denied by the Secretary of the Navy,” Kinley wrote. “I have spent the past week processing my emotions, as it is very difficult to have been this close to achieving a childhood dream and having it taken away from me. …
“I am very aware of the commitment that I made to service when I first arrived at the United States Naval Academy. I look forward to my career as a naval officer in the information warfare community. However, I am deserving of the opportunity to live out another one of my life-long dreams before fulfilling my service requirement.”
Kinley also cited examples of other recent military academy graduates who were granted waivers to pursue NFL careers.
"2019 was the first year for the policy to be put into action with players such as Malcolm Perry (Navy/Dolphins) and Elijah Riley (Army/Eagles) reaping the benefits," Kinley wrote. "Currently, I have four other counterparts to participate in the NFL: Jon Rahttigan (West Point/Seahawks), Nolan Laufenberg (Air Force/Broncos), George Silvanic (Air Force/Rams), and Parker Ferguson (Air Force/Jets.)
"While I acknowledge that these men are from different branches of the armed service, it puzzles me as to why I am the only person to be denied this opportunity."
Navy: Exceptions are 'rightfully rare'
Dorsey told Yahoo Sports that exceptions are "rightfully rare" and that everyone who attends the Naval Academy has an equal commitment to service.
"Admission to the Naval Academy is an extensive and competitive process," Dorsey said. "The mission of the Naval Academy is to develop young men and women to commission as officers in the Navy or Marine Corps.
"When students accept admission and continue their education in this program, there is an understanding and acknowledgement that they will upon graduation be commissioned. Every Midshipman attends on the same terms and each has the same responsibility to serve. Exceptions to that commitment to serve have been rightfully rare."
Williams-Jenkins argued that Perry's exception to play for the Dolphins last season should act as a precedent for Kinley.
“It’s the same provisions that are in place, so nothing has changed,” Williams-Jenkins said. “It’s just the decision that was made by the one individual.”
Kinley, a Memphis native, wrote a letter to Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) seeking help with his case.
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