Former Navy football, baseball players had right to appeal after pro sports request denial
(Tribune News Service) — Three days before graduating from the Naval Academy, Cameron Kinley and Charlie Connolly were summoned to a meeting with the Commandant of Midshipmen — Col. James "J.P." McDonough III.
McDonough informed the two senior athletes that their requests to delay active-duty service for the purpose or pursuing professional sports had been denied. Connolly and Kinley would learn later that acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas W. Harker had declined to forward their packets seeking to pursue the pro sports option to the secretary of defense.
Connolly and Kinley were then told they couldn't appeal Harker's decision.
It turns out that was not true.
Lieutenant Emily Wilkin, a spokesman for the United States Navy, issued a statement to The Capital on Tuesday evening that revealed there were, in fact, "available avenues of review." After meeting with Navy leadership and learning their options, Kinley elected to proceed with the review while Connolly declined.
On Tuesday, the Navy announced that Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III approved Kinley's request to delay his active-duty service commitment in order to attend training camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League.
"Cameron Kinley had a right to submit a petition to the Board for Correction of Naval Records (BCNR), explaining that the decision not to forward his request to delay commissioning to participate in professional sports was an error or injustice requiring correction by the BCNR and relief by the Secretary of Defense," Wilkin said in the statement.
After reviewing the petition, the Board of Correction of Naval Records made a recommendation, which Harker endorsed and forwarded to the secretary of defense.
Austin then rescinded Kinley's commission, granted his request to delay commissioning and transferred the 2021 Naval Academy graduate to the Individual Ready Reserve with an enlisted status.
Kinley is now enlisted in the Individual Ready Reserve for up to a period of eight years at a grade no higher than E-4, in accordance with Department of Defense instruction. If Kinley does not make the NFL, he will be recommissioned and begin serving as a Naval intelligence officer.
"This plan will see Cameron enlisted in the Inactive Ready Reserve for the duration of his football career," Secretary Austin said in a statement issued Tuesday evening. "Upon completion of his playing time, we look forward to welcoming him back inside the ranks as a naval officer."
"In the meantime, we know Cameron will take every opportunity on and off the field to ably represent the Navy and the military to the American people and to assist us in our recruiting efforts," Austin continued. "I applaud Navy leadership for finding this way to showcase both Cameron's athletic prowess, as well as the quality and professionalism of our student athletes and our personnel."
President Joe Biden even weighed in on the matter, posting a statement. As Class of 2021 president, Kinley spoke during the Naval Academy graduation and presented Vice President Kamala Harris, the guest speaker, with a Navy jacket.
"I am confident that Cameron will represent the Navy well in the NFL, just as he did as a standout athlete and class president at the Naval Academy," Biden said.
Wilkin said the Board of Correction of Naval Records is committed to providing current and former Navy and Marine Corps members the highest level of administrative review to correct errors or injustices to their records.
Connolly chose not to submit a petition to the BCNR because he ultimately did not want to give up his commission and transfer to the inactive ready reserve. The right-handed pitcher with a blazing fastball was likely to be taken in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft (being held July 11-13) had Harker initially approved his request to delay active-duty service.
"Therefore, Connolly remains a commissioned officer carrying out the terms of his existing military commitment. He is currently an ensign assigned to the Naval Academy and will report to his next assignment to start surface warfare officer training," Wilkin wrote.
Connolly did not return phone calls from The Capital seeking comment. However, he did communicate through Navy baseball coach Paul Kostacopoulos that he did not pursue the appeals process because he was unwilling to have his commission as a Naval officer rescinded.
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