01 May 2008

War or the Gridiron?

It was not that long ago that Pat Tillman walked away from the NFL and millions of dollars to become an Army Ranger and fight the Taliban in Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001. He became a national hero, regardless of the outrageous aftermath of his death.

But the Army still can’t get its priorities straight when it comes to football players.

West Point’s Caleb Campbell won't have to worry about fighting in the same war that claimed Tillman's life -- at least not yet -- even though he's been trained as an officer. Because Campbell is good at football, the military thinks his time would be better spent battling running backs and quarterbacks in the NFL rather than the terrorists in Afghanistan or Iraq.

The U.S. Military Academy has spent four years and a considerable amount of money training him to do both, but recently decided to give extraordinary athletes a way to "opt-out" of their military commitment. It's good PR and it's also allows the school to recruit better athletes, perhaps a way to resurrect Army's football glory days.

I don't blame Campbell for pursuing a career (and a huge amount of money) as a professional football player. I blame the people in the Army who allowed this to happen. The Navy and the Air Force do not have such loopholes – yet.

The last time I checked, more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers had died. We are at war, and thousands and thousands of lives are being lost in the process. But somehow the Army has determined that what happens on Sunday in the NFL is more important that happens to human beings every day in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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