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US military academy athletes given greater chance to turn pro by Trump administration

US President Donald Trump participates in the coin toss before the Army-Navy football game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on December 14 (Credit: Getty Images)

US President Donald Trump used the Army-Navy American football game at Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, on December 14 to hail a new administration policy that will allow military academy athletes to pursue professional sporting careers before they serve their required stints in the armed forces.

According to the guidelines, announced earlier this year and approved last month, the student-athletes must get approval from Defense Secretary Mark Esper and then eventually fulfill their military obligation or repay the costs of their education.

In the memo issued last month, Esper said that there “is a strong expectation that a Military Service Academy cadet or midshipman’s future professional sports employment will provide the [Department of Defense] with significant favorable media exposure likely to enhance national level recruiting or public affairs missions.”

Ahead of the Army-Navy football game, which Navy won 31-7, Trump talked about the policy to both teams in their respective locker rooms to wild cheers from the players.

Trump told the Army team: “The last time I saw your coach, he said, ‘What about a waiver?’ I said, ‘What are you talking about: a waiver?’ He said some of these guys could play in the NFL, you could play for the Yankees, you could play for the Mets, you could play basketball, you could play whatever. But you have to serve a long time.

“And what we are doing now is you’ll go out and make a fortune and after you are all finished with your professional career you will go and you will serve. And everybody is thrilled. That means you can go out and do whatever you want…So I want to congratulate you…So good luck to you,” he said.

A number of leading professional athletes in the US have emerged from military service academies, most notably Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, who won the Heisman Trophy while playing at the US Naval Academy before winning two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys after spending four years serving in the armed forces, including a tour in Vietnam.

In basketball, Hall of Fame center David Robinson won two National Basketball Association titles with the San Antonio Spurs after not being allowed to join the NBA for two years after being drafted due to military commitments.