Former Navy cornerback Cameron Kinley was hopeful he’d be allowed to delay his commission and pursue a career in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the Acting Secretary of the Navy recently denied his request.
Kinley entered the Naval Academy in 2017 aware of what he signed up for and how the opportunity would lead him to serve his country. Throughout his four years in Annapolis, Md., Kinley dedicated endless hours of training to become the best officer that he could.
But while at the Naval Academy, the Tennessee native starred for the school’s football team as well. The 6-foot-2, 204-pound Kinley played 40 games across four seasons, totaling 87 tackles, 13 passes defensed and one interception.
The 2021 Naval Academy class president is disappointed in the Navy’s decision, pointing out that other athletes from Navy have been allowed to pursue their dreams in recent years. By playing professional football, Kinley believes that he could be an “ambassador” to the Naval Academy and military in general.
He is now preparing to become an officer in the U.S. Navy Information Warfare Community, but he’s still hopeful that the Acting Secretary’s decision will be overruled by someone higher in the chain of command.
“Being a professional football player would have been one of their best recruitment tools,” Kinley said on Glenn Clark Radio June 9, “because you’re going to have young kids looking at that like, ‘Oh, look at him. He’s in the NFL, and he’s an officer. I want to be like him when I get older.'”
Kinley realized he wanted to play football at the professional level after the December 2020 Army-Navy game. After discussing the situation with his family, the cornerback recognized that he would later regret his actions if he did not pursue it.
“This could have an even better impact on the Navy, and this will allow me to inspire and motivate so many other people,” Kinley said of his thought process regarding pursuing an NFL career. “So I have to go after that opportunity before or I knew that I will regret it for the rest of my life.”
The Buccaneers signed Kinley as an undrafted free agent in early May. During offseason workouts, Kinley had the chance to play alongside players and coaches from last year’s Super Bowl champions. Despite feeling some nerves, Kinley put forth his best effort and proved to himself that he belonged in the NFL.
The experience was “once in a lifetime,” he said.
“It’s always been about the opportunity to fulfill both of these dreams,” Kinley said, referring to the NFL and serving his country. “The opportunity was placed in front of me, and who wouldn’t want to go after that?”
Former President Donald Trump endorsed a policy in 2019 that allowed service academy athletes to request to delay their service duties in order to chase opportunities in professional sports. Under this policy, athletes must create packages that will be reviewed by officials in the chain of command.
After signing with the Bucs, Kinley quickly created and submitted his package, assuming that all would work out in his favor. That was not the case. Kinley felt his dreams slip away as he was told his request was denied on May 25, three days prior to his graduation ceremony.
“I think I’ve made the most of my opportunity so I won’t have any regrets, and I can look back at my football experience and be like, ‘Yeah, I enjoyed that,'” Kinley said. “But I definitely would have been able to cherish that just a tad bit more if I knew that was going to be my last time in the facility putting the cleats on and putting the helmet on, and it’s going to be tough to deal with.”
Kinley believes there should be consistency throughout the process, allowing equal opportunities for each athlete. Former Mids quarterback and current Miami Dolphins wide receiver Malcolm Perry and other service academy athletes followed the same guidelines as Kinley and had their request accepted.
Jon Rhattigan (Army), Nolan Laufenberg (Air Force) and George Silvanic (Air Force) have been allowed to pursue NFL careers this year.
“I think that’s what’s confusing to me is that I’ve seen this package be used successfully,” Kinley said. “And so I pretty much assumed everything was going to be good, and for things not work out, it’s tough to deal with — especially when you were right there about to accomplish that childhood dream.”
Although he is disappointed with the decision, Kinley understands and values the opportunity to serve and is eager to become a Navy officer.
“I’m going to give 110 percent of my effort into [serving],” Kinley said. “This situation isn’t going to deteriorate my approach that I take to be an officer.”
For more from Kinley, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers