Former NFL Player, Naval Academy Grad Shares Thoughts on Rule Change

Photo courtesy of Eric Kettani

Photo courtesy of Eric Kettani

by William Selby
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

There have been some great players in professional sports that came from service academies over the years and soon, you could be seeing more and more service academy athletes playing on Sundays. Why? Glad you asked.

Over the years, the service academies have had differing rules regarding the commitment a cadet or midshipman owed to their service before becoming a professional athlete. This past year, the rule was changed yet again in an effort to encourage young athletes to attend a service academy. You see, prior to this rule, if an athlete was selected or drafted to play for a certain team, they had an obligation of service to Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps. Imagine being selected to play a sport where you could make a great deal of money professionally, only to be told that your dream would have to wait.

Understandably, this is somewhat of a hot button topic because you are being given an education based on your prior commitment, so there is no reason an athlete should receive preferential treatment. On the other hand, is it right to deny someone their dream and possibly a great deal of money if you have the option not to? These are just some of the questions arising from this topic. So we asked Eric Kettani, a former Naval Academy graduate and professional football player for his thoughts on the rule and the recent change to it, which will allow athletes to sign professional contracts while serving in a different capacity.

Kettani now lives in Cleveland, Ohio, where he works for the Navy Office of Community Outreach, coordinating Fleet Weeks around the country.

DoD recently made a change to its pro sports policy: service academy athletes no longer have to serve two years of active duty to fulfill their required service time – they can serve in the ready reserve instead.

You served three years. Was that the requirement when you first got out? “Two was the requirement, but I did three.”

What do you think of this change?

“I’m really happy for the guys, that there’s a policy in place now – that it says on paper that anybody who serves at the academy, if there good enough in that capacity – not just in football but in lacrosse, hockey, soccer or any sport – that they have the gift and ability to transfer over, that they’ll allow them to do that.

Many would say it’s good for the athletes and recruiting programs, but it then separates them from their peers, who have to serve active duty. Thoughts on that?

“I definitely understand that. I dealt with that in my time as well, even after serving three years. But there are other people as well that are getting to go to Oxford or MIT immediately to get their doctorate or master’s degree, and they’re not going right to active duty, and they’re doing their time also.”

Your career shows you’ve got a “never give up” attitude. Did the Navy help instill that in you?

“Absolutely! The Naval Academy was a very tough place to go to school. It was very challenging and rewarding in all aspects, and every day was a very long day of academics and then military and football on top of it, so the never give up thing is always there. It’s still with me now. It’s ingrained in me. I love work. I wake up early and work late. I enjoy it. I embrace it.”

What advice would you give new players such as Chris Swain or Keenan Reynolds?

“Embrace the grind. The NFL isn’t an easy thing. People think that players are getting paid a lot of money, but at the same time there are guys who are bouncing around teams, getting cut or not even making the team. I know so many people who had one tryout and didn’t even make it. That was their career. So, I wish Keenan and the other guys the best and for longevity in their careers.”

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