Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dreams Dashed?

Caleb Campbell thought he was going to be reporting to Detroit Lions training camp Thursday morning. Instead, the seventh-round draft pick out of West Point will have to give the Army two years of active service, which may include serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

West Point officials reviewed the policy that allowed Campbell to serve as a recruiter and a reserve for his two years if he made the Lions' roster, eventually deciding it needed to reflect the Department of Defense's policy stating all military academy graduates had to give their two years.

This was a touchy issue even on the weekend of the NFL Draft, one in which I understood and actually agreed with both sides of the argument. I didn't feel comfortable denying Campbell his dream to play in the NFL, but at the same time felt that by enrolling and graduating from West Point, he understood what was expected of him.

Guys don't go to West Point to become professional football players; they go to serve in the Army.

Considering this country's fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan right now, Campbell's service is probably even more vital. So I don't have an issue with the Army telling him he has to give his two years before trying to suit up in the NFL. My opinion might be different if we were in a time of peace, but as it stands, we need all the soldiers we can get.

My beef is the timing of it. Campbell was drafted in April, after Army officials told him he was free to try out -- and that he could put in his two years as a recruiter if he made the team. Here we are, four months later, on the eve of Lions training camp, and suddenly the Army changes its mind.

At best, this is a case of really bad timing. At worst, it's hypocritical.

Why did it take the Army so long to realize how flawed its policy was -- particularly when compared to that of the DoD? The Air Force and Naval Academies didn't have this issue, so what made West Point so different? Why not examine the policy before the NFL Draft and make a decision then, so Campbell and all 32 NFL teams know where they stand?

Oh, wait ... that would make sense.

All the credit in the world to Campbell for handling this the way he has. He is a testament to the kind of person places like West Point produce, and I feel good knowing people like him are out there defending our country. And, in spite of their ineptitude, I can't help but feel for the Lions -- at least Campbell was their seventh-round pick and not their first.

The Lions will hold Campbell's NFL rights until April 2009, and another team can then draft him. If that doesn't happen -- which I tend to think, since Campbell was a borderline seventh-rounder the first time around -- he'll become a free agent if he decides to try the NFL again after his two years of active service.

I hope all 32 teams offer Campbell a tryout once he's done his two years.

Again, I'm not saying the policy is bad or that Campbell should 100 percent without a doubt be in Lions camp -- I just don't like the timing of the Army's decision to change its required services policy.

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