By: Jessica Laske*
In May 2019, President Trump attended an event in honor of West Point Military Academy’s football team. At the event, he mentioned reconsidering the Department of Defense’s policy on barring military academy or Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) graduates from immediately entering professional sports. In a memo dated June 26th, President Trump gave the Department of Defense four months to craft that policy.
According to the White House, the new directive responds to the reality that athletes talented enough to play sports professionally have “[a] short window of time during which playing professional sports is realistically possible.” With this new directive, the White House hopes talented athletes will take advantage of a professional sports career while “[still] honor[ing] [their] commitment . . . to [the] Armed Forces . . .” An added bonus is that military academy sports teams will become “more competitive with traditional colleges.”
Some athletes have successfully completed mandatory service requirements before entering professional sports. For example, Naval Academy graduate Roger Staubach served in Vietnam and later became a quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Other examples include Air Force Academy graduate Chad Hennings and Naval Academy graduate David Robinson.
Some talented athletes, at the discretion of top officials, had the option to delay the five-year service requirement. In 2016, former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter implemented a policy allowing promising athletes a direct avenue to professional sports. However, the Secretary conditioned this policy on the requirement that those talented graduates had to fulfill their service obligation in the reserve forces.
In 2017, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis created a policy requiring graduates to serve a minimum of two years off active duty. He reasoned that military academies “exist to develop future officers who enhance the readiness and lethality” of the armed forces. Contrary to his administration’s earlier policy, the President gave the Secretary of Defense 120 days to “submit the Revised Sports Policy.”
United States military academy and ROTC program graduates must serve five years in the Armed Forces in exchange for their educations funded by the Armed Forces. President Trump’s memo indicates a return to earlier policy on the issue. The old policy requiring two years of service impacted top athlete recruitment into professional sports. The White House hopes that the new policy will directly benefit student athletes and still uphold the military’s strength.
The United States Code outlines that a cadet “will not seek release from . . . commissioned service obligation to obtain employment as a professional athlete . . . until the cadet completes . . . at least two consecutive years service.” In practice, officers may “apply for excess leave, after serving a minimum of 24 months” in order to enter professional sports. By requesting early release, the officer’s athletic career should lead to “potential recruiting or public affairs benefits” for the Department of Defense.
The President’s deadline for the Secretary of Defense passed on October 24, 2019. However, changes have already occurred with a West Point graduate named Brett Toth getting an exemption from the Army to play professional football. Toth graduated from West Point in 2018 and finished his first year of service before signing with the Philadelphia Eagles. Additionally, Air Force graduate Austin Cutting joined the Minnesota Vikings after the Air Force granted him an exception. With the new policy’s implementation, the Armed Forces will allow talented athletes to participate in professional sports while promoting the prestige of the military. Soon, more talented graduates will enter professional sports and honor their country. Professional athletes comprise a small segment of the American population. Allowing a specialized group of ROTC or military academy graduates to immediately enter professional sports and delay military enlistment likely will not have a large impact on military operations. After all, if talented athletes can serve both their country and achieve their athletic dreams, then why not let them play?
*Staff Writer, Jeffrey S. Moorad Sports Law Journal, J.D. Candidate, May 2021, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law
 See Ryan Bosen, Trump To DOD: Let Military Grads Play Pro Sports Pronto, Law 360 (June 27, 2019), https://www.law360.com/articles/1173588/trump-to-dod-let-military-grads-play-pro-sports-pronto (reporting on President Trump’s pronouncement at an event honoring West Point Military Academy’s football team); see also NBC News, Watch Live: Trump Hosts West Point Football Team At White House, NBC News (May 6, 2019), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8YR_cDU_O4 (streaming live event where President Trump first announced intent to implement policy); see also ESPN News Services & Associated Press, Trump Orders Post-Military Service Rule Overhaul, ESPN (June 26, 2019), https://www.espn.com/college-sports/story/_/id/27062735/trump-orders-post-military-service-rule-overhaul (detailing President’s order to implement new policy allowing military graduates to immediately enter professional sports).
 See Bosen, supra note1 (reporting on President Trump’s announcement at West Point Military Academy’s football team event); see also 10 U.S.C. § 7448(a)(2)(B) (2019) (mandating cadets “will serve on active duty for at least five years”).
 See Memorandum on Policy for Military Service Academy and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Graduates Seeking to Participate in Professional Sports, 84 Fed. Reg. 31,457 (July 1, 2019), https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/DCPD-201900426/pdf/DCPD-201900426.pdf (directing Secretary of Defense to implement new policy allowing military graduates to play professionally after graduation) [hereinafter “Memo”].
 Bosen, supra note 1 (noting President’s reasoning for new policy); see also Memo, supra note 3 (“[C]adets and midshipmen have a short window of time to take advantage of their athletic talents . . .”).
 Bosen, supra note 1 (noting new policy will also maintain armed defense’s integrity); see also Memo, supra note 3 (“[T]hese student-athletes should honor the commitment they made to serve in the Armed Forces . . .”).
 Statement from the Press Secretary Regarding Professional Athletic Opportunities for Military Commissioning Program Graduates, Nat’l Security & Defense (June 26, 2019), https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/statement-press-secretary-regarding-professional-athletic-opportunities-military-commissioning-program-graduates/ (“[T]he President’s policy will empower our cherished Academies to compete even better in sporting activities against other colleges and universities . . .”).
 See Bobby Allyn, Trump Orders Rule allowing Military academy Grads To Defer Service To Play Pro Sports, NPR (June 26, 2019), https://www.npr.org/2019/06/26/736437284/trump-orders-rule-allowing-military-academy-grads-to-defer-service-to-play-pro-s (commenting on ability of some graduates completing service and having professional athletic careers); see also DoD Rescinds Policy Allowing Academy, ROTC Athletes to Turn Pro Upon Graduation, U.S. Dept. of Defense, https://dod.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1169275/dod-rescinds-policy-allowing-academy-rotc-athletes-to-turn-pro-upon-graduation/ (last visited Nov. 14, 2019) (discussing old policy and providing examples of successful graduates who completed service).
 See Allyn, supra note 7 (noting Roger Staubach also went onto to win 1963 Heisman Trophy); see also DoD Rescinds Policy Allowing Academy, ROTC Athletes to Turn Pro Upon Graduation, supra note 7 (providing examples of military academy or ROTC graduates who successfully served and played sports professionally).
 See DoD Rescinds Policy Allowing Academy, ROTC Athletes to Turn Pro Upon Graduation, supra note 7 (listing other athletes who successfully served and played professional sports such as football player Chad Hennings and basketball player David Robinson).
 See Bosen, supra note 1 (“Some promising athletes have been allowed to delay . . . so they can play professionally right after graduation, but those decisions have reportedly been haphazard and largely determined by top officials at individual academies.”).
 See id. (discussing 2016 policy allowing graduates easier access to professional sports career); see also Amie Just, DOD Clears The Way For Military Academy Graduates To Jump Straight To Pro Sports, Wash. Post (July 12, 2016), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2016/07/12/military-academy-athletes-can-now-go-straight-to-the-pros/ (“A service member can request to be tendered an appointment in the reserve upon graduation and satisfy their commissioned service obligation in the Ready Reserve.”).
 See Bosen, supra note 1 (discussing terms of 2016 policy requiring two years of service).
 See id. (noting previous policy requiring longer terms of service); see also DoD Rescinds Policy Allowing Academy, ROTC Athletes to Turn Pro Upon Graduation, supra note 7 (informing public of 2017 policy).
 DoD Rescinds Policy Allowing Academy, ROTC Athletes to Turn Pro Upon Graduation, supra note 7 (quoting Pentagon spokesperson Dana W. White "[o]ur military academies exist to develop future officers who enhance the readiness and the lethality of our military services . . .").
 Memo, supra note 3 (“The Secretary shall submit the Revised Sports Policy to the President… no later than 120 days from the date of this memorandum.”).
 See Bosen, supra note 1 (detailing current policy’s service requirement); see also 10 U.S.C. § 7448(a)(2)(B) (2019) (codifying five year service requirement).
 See Bosen, supra note 1 (noting President’s measure returns to earlier policy standards).
 See Eric Beech & Jonathan Oatis, Trump Signs Order To Allow Military Academy Graduates To Play Pro Sports, Reuters (June 26, 2019), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-military-sports/trump-signs-order-to-allow-military-academy-graduates-to-play-pro-sports-idUSKCN1TS00H (“Trump’s memo to the secretary of defense reverses a Pentagon requirement that…hurt recruiting of top athletes at the schools.”).
 See Statement from the Press Secretary Regarding Professional Athletic Opportunities for Military Commissioning Program Graduates, supra note 6 (“The President wants our military to be strong in all respects, even in athletics.”).
 10 U.S.C. § 7448(a)(5)(A) (2019) (codifying two year requirement before officer’s release to play professional sports).
 32 C.F.R. § 217.6(g)(3)(ii) (2019) (explaining practical implementation of 10 U.S.C. § 744(a)(5)(A)).
 Id. (explaining potential public affairs or media benefit attached to officer entering professional sports career more easily).
 See Memo, supra note 3 (“The Secretary shall submit the Revised Sports Policy to the President… no later than 120 days from the date [June 26, 2019] of this memorandum.”).
 See Elizabeth McLaughlin, Army Allows West Point Graduate to Sign With Philadelphia Eagles, ABC News (Aug. 16, 2019), https://abcnews.go.com/Sports/army-west-point-graduate-sign-philadelphia-eagles/story?id=65017207 (“A former West Point offensive tackle has been granted an exception by the Army in order to sign a three-year deal to play football for the Philadelphia Eagles . . .”).
 See id. (“[Toth] graduated from West Point as a nuclear engineer in May 2018 and has fulfilled his first year of active duty service.”).
 See id. (discussing exception for Air Force graduate Austin Cutting of Minnesota Vikings).
 See Statement from the Press Secretary Regarding Professional Athletic Opportunities for Military Commissioning Program Graduates, supra note 6 (“Highly talented cadets and midshipmen . . . should be able to both take advantage of the short window of time during which playing professional sports is realistically possible, while also honoring the commitment they have made to our Armed Forces and our country.”).
 See id. (encouraging military academy graduates to more easily enter professional athletics).
 See Cork Gaines, 25 Maps That Show Where Professional Athletes Come From, Business Insider (Oct. 10, 2013), https://www.businessinsider.com/25-maps-that-show-where-professional-athletes-come-from-2013-10 (compiling statistics on American professional athlete population).
 See Statement from the Press Secretary Regarding Professional Athletic Opportunities for Military Commissioning Program Graduates, supra note 6 (noting talented ROTC graduates can still serve their county and still lay professional sports).
 See Beech & Oatis, supra note 18 (“Trump’s memo to the secretary of defense reverses a Pentagon requirement” that inhibited recruitment of quality athletes from ROTC or military academies).