President Proposes Deferring Military Service for Cadets Offered Pro Sports Contracts
Washington, D.C., May 6 -- Though the President of the United States often has serious military issues to consider, he took a few moments on a beautiful Spring day to have some fun with the top military academy football team in America.
Above: Ken Kraetzer (Left) of the WVOX Son's of the American Legion West Point Football Report with journalist, on-air reporter, and MetroSports Magazine's Feature Editor, John Chuhran (Right) reporting from the White House with the Army Football Team. Image from YouTube video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KREERqm8kOM
Many senior members of government and the Army -- including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of the Army Mark Esper, Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley, Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey, and West Point Superintendent Lt. General Darryl Williams -- were in attendance as The President honored the Black Knights of West Point and their Head Coach, Jeff Monken. The Army squad defeated teams from both Air Force and Navy in 2018, earning them a second straight Commander-In-Chief's Trophy (CIC) that was presented in a long-planned ceremony in the Rose Garden at The White House.
And President Trump broke some unexpected sports news of his own during the ceremony. The President suggested that gifted athletes at the military academies should be permitted to become professionals and defer their military service until after their athletic careers have ended. The President said he thought about the idea while attending last year's Army-Navy game in Philadelphia.
Above Left: President Donald J. Trump congratulating the Army Football team. Above Right: Army Football coach Jeff Monken thanking the president for the recognition. Photo Credit: John Chuhran
"I was so impressed (with the intensity of the play) when I was at the game," President Trump said on a brilliantly sunny day with temperatures in the low 70s. "I mentioned this (idea) to coach (Monken), and it's a big deal. I'm going to look at a waiver for service academy athletes who can get into the major leagues in sports like the NFL, hockey, basketball and baseball. They can serve their (military) time after they are finished with professional sports. Can you imagine this incredible coach with that little asset? I imagine that would make recruiting a little bit easier. So, on behalf of the coach, who is a tremendous guy, we're going to look at a waiver of service time until after their sports careers (end). It used to be (a service requirement of) five years, four years; now it's two years. I think it's a great idea (to defer service) and I think it's really fair, too."
If the suggestion were adopted, players like 1963 Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach of Navy and West Point graduate Alejandro Villanueva, now starting left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers after serving three combat tours overseas, would have been eligible to play professionally during their prime playing years instead of losing several seasons to military service.
Above: President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence with the Army Black Knights in the White House Oval Office. Photo Credit: White House.gov
The President was generous with his praise of Coach Monken and the Black Knights, who last year became the first team in West Point's long football history to win 11 games in a season and managed to win the CIC Trophy in consecutive years for the first time since the award was created in 1958. President Trump showed extensive knowledge of the Army team and it's triumphs.
"Every time you enter the field you prove that you are Army Strong. Against Air Force, you led the first half as co-captain Darnell Woolfolk scored the first of two unanswered touchdowns. Then Air Force came surging back, cutting the lead to only three points. But as Army always does, you held the line. Linebacker James Nachtigal and team co-captain Cole Christensen made pivotal fourth-down stops in the final two minutes of the game, securing a 17-14 win for the Black Knights."
"What mattered most was the team's triumph in one of the nation's most celebrated athletic events, the Army-Navy game. Did anybody ever hear of it?", President Trump joked. "It's a big deal. I was there... I've been there numerous times and I was there to watch this one. You took an early lead and held Navy scoreless for three quarters.
"Four minutes into the fourth quarter, Navy's quarter back, an outstanding player, was at the 7-yard line getting ready to go into the end zone. He was ready -- you weren't ready. In a play that ultimately saved the game, defensive back Jalyon McClinton raced in from the side and knocked the ball loose and you got an Army recovery. The name of that player happened to be James Gibson. You saved the game, so they must like you. That hit stopped a Navy touchdown in its tracks and Army won by a single score."
Besides pointing out the exceptional play of the team from West Point, the President also singled out the achievements of Coach Monken, who engineered the end of the 13-game losing streak -- the longest of either team in the long history of college football's most enduring rivalry -- that Army had against Navy.
"From 1997 to 2015, Army won only 4 games against other service academies," President Trump said. "Think of that. Now with your victories over Navy and Air Force -- and a lot of other great schools and some football powers -- you have won five in a row and ended last season ranked 19th in the nation. Coach Monken's record of success earned him the prestigious George Monger and Vince Lombardi Coach of the Year Awards. Coach, that's an incredible job. I know some coaches in other leagues, in the NFL, and Jeff they have great, great, respect for you as a coach and as a man, and I just want to let you know that."
Coach Monken appreciated the praise, but he turned the attention back on his players.
"Mr. President, on behalf of the Army football brotherhood," coach Monken said, "the United States Corps of Cadets -- West Point's Long Grey Line, and all the brave men and women who proudly serve in the United States Army, United States Army Reserves and the Army National Guard, we thank you for inviting America's Team here to the White House in our nation's capital for the second straight year to accept the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy, which we consider the most coveted award in college football.
Above: Army football team takes the field at Michie Stadium. Photo Credit. Warren Rosenberg www.nyspg.com
"It's a privilege and honor for us to be here with you once again. These young men and their classmates in the Corps represent our nation's very best. Their commitment to put country before themselves is what sets these men apart and what sets them apart from common men. It's the same commitment they have to each other. There's just an incredible loyalty on this team and a commitment to serve on this team. That's allowed them to experience record-setting success in a program with an already unbelievable football history -- the national championships, the Heismann Trophies, and the great teams that people talk about.
"It's unbelievable to have a team like this join the history of Army football. It's a tough team and these are tough players, a tough bunch of guys. They fought their way to 11 wins (in 2018) and 21 wins in our last two years. Our 20 plus seniors have led a resurgence in Army football. But what makes me most proud is the commitment that they make beyond the field, the accomplishments still to come for this group of young men as each of them will serve as officers in the United States Army. As most college football players prepare for upcoming seasons while earning their degrees preparing them for careers beyond football, ours also prepare to fight our nation's wars.
"In a speech to our Corps, Army Chief of Staff Milley said, 'You came here to fight, and fight you will.' I love that line. And just as this team fought this year against opponents who wanted to take their place on the victory stand, they'll fight against those who want to take what's ours as a nation. These men here and their classmates back at West Point, they're going to stand in the gap between our freedom and those who want to take it from us. I'm most proud of that of this football team and of our Academy.
"These young men represent all that our nation expects from an officer and a West Pointer -- the best of the best, warriors ready,
determined, disciplined, resilient. These are the same qualities expected in a championship football team and they are (winners of) the CIC, Armed Forces Bowl, the Lambert Trophy, the national champions of toughness. They are what we call the Last of the Hard. Mr. President, thank you again for hosting this team and this incredible trophy. It's our great honor to be here as your guests. On, Brave Old Army Team, and Beat Navy!"
The President also recognized that football represented just a small part of the cadets' training. "When he was Superintendent of West Point, General Douglas MacArthur made athletics a mandatory part of the Academy curriculum," President Trump said, "and he set a clear goal: every cadet an athlete. Some things you can't learn in a classroom and at the United States Military Academy, you push yourself to the limit in body and mind and spirit because you play for more than a trophy. The lessons you learn on the football field will help you to lead on the battlefield. And, hopefully, we won't have too many battles because we're building a military so strong nobody's going to mess with us -- nobody.
"When you play for Army, you're taught the courage to take a hit, to have the strength to sacrifice for your team, and to have the grit to fight for every single inch. You give all that you have and you never let up until that mission is done, until you've gained that victory. The Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard -- all of America's armed forces -- are the strongest, bravest, toughest and fiercest warriors the world has ever known. Right now, we have the greatest military the world has ever known.
"With us today are 28 seniors on the team who will soon graduate and become second lieutenants and enter different branches including infantry, armor, field artillery and air defense artillery. Wherever your country needs you, we know you will serve with integrity, loyalty, honor, courage and an unbreakable will to win, win, win. We love that sound. This great Army of ours always fights to victory -- always. To the entire Black Knights team, congratulations on your historic victories and keep on that path to winning and making us all very proud of you."