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Trump announces intent to allow military academy athletes to go pro and serve later

Army edged out Navy 14-13 to capture their second straight victory in the annual Army-Navy game.

MICHAEL S. DARNELL/STARS AND STRIPES

By PAUL SONNE | The Washington Post | Published: May 6, 2019

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is considering allowing student-athletes at U.S. military academies to play professional sports immediately after graduation and perform their required military service afterward.

Trump made the announcement Monday in the White House Rose Garden with West Point's championship football team.

"I'm going to look at doing a waiver for service academy athletes who can get into the major leagues like the NFL, hockey, baseball," Trump said. "We're going to see if we can do it, and they'll serve their time after they're finished with professional sports."

If Trump follows through on his promise, it would reverse a 2017 decision by then-defense secretary Jim Mattis to end a short-lived policy that allowed service academy athletes in some cases to enter the reserves following graduation so they could play pro sports. Former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, for example, was drafted into the NFL in 2016 after he graduated and entered the reserves.

Mattis put an end to the practice, saying in an April 2017 memo that the academies "exist to develop future officers who enhance the readiness and lethality of our Military Services."

"During their first two years following graduation, officers will serve as full-fledged military officers carrying out the normal work and career expectations of an officer who has received the extraordinary benefits of an ROTC or military academy education at taxpayer expense," Mattis wrote.

The spokeswoman for the Pentagon at the time emphasized that many athletes served in the military after graduation and then went pro - including Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach in the 1960s and defensive tackle Chad Hennings in the 1990s.

The Pentagon said in a statement that it was still following the Mattis policy.

On Monday, Trump announced his intention to change it and suggested he had discussed the matter with West Point football coach Jeff Monken.

"Can you imagine this incredible coach with that little asset?" Trump said, pointing at Monken. "Because I imagine that would make recruiting a little bit easier."

Trump made the comments as he presented the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for the second year in a row to the Army Black Knights, West Point's football team. The team retained the title after beating the Air Force Falcons, 17-14, last November.

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