Monday, May 5, 2008

Live For The Game Or Die For Your Country

Another weekend has passed since NFL franchises made their 2008 draft selections. Those rookies have now joined their new teams and will work vigorously to obtain a roster spot. It was a draft filled with big name talent, but there’s a much smaller name that seems to have embedded itself in my thoughts. That name is Caleb Campbell, an Army cadet chosen in the seventh round by the Detroit Lions.

Everyone is aware of the personal sacrifice made by Pat Tillman, who willingly gave up a career in the NFL to fight for his country. Not since World War II had we seen professional athletes display that type of dedication to a cause bigger than the games they played, until Tillman shocked friends, family, and a majority of America with his announcement. Tillman eventually lost his life in Afghanistan, and a nation grieved for him.

In the case of Campbell, we get a complete reversal. Here is a young man who signed on to make the defense of America’s freedoms his priority, with anything else being secondary. Government money prepared him to be an officer on the battlefield, and nothing more than a hobbyist on the football field. But as Campbell's college football career came to an end, the U.S Army altered those priorities.

Before Roger Staubach could sling a single pass downfield for the Dallas Cowboys, he had to first fulfill his commitment to the United States Navy, including a tour in Vietnam. Before David Robinson could wear a San Antonio jersey, this Navy Midshipman had to serve two years of service, after being drafted by the Spurs, before he was permitted to appear on the hardwood. Times have changed, with rules changing with it, and it all leads to a question of fairness.

Under the new Military policy, any athlete drafted by a professional team can report immediately, and their service is pushed back. If that individual makes the roster, and remains in the league for two years, their service is waived completely. In theory, Campbell won’t only represent the Detroit Lions, he also becomes the Army Public Relations man and recruiting officer. The Army feels he’s more beneficial in a recruiting role than in a leadership role on foreign soil. The end result is that many of his graduating class, and former teammates will find themselves in active duty. Some will participate in the hostilities of Iraq and Afghanistan, and some will make the ultimate sacrifice with their lives. Is Caleb Campbell being rewarded for being great on the football field? Are his teammates being punished, because they were not?

And how much more pressure does it place on a coaching staff, when they are already faced with the big decisions of who should make a roster? There’s a big difference between cutting a player and sending him off to a smaller league or the American workforce. But that decision looms even greater, when a roster cut possibly condemns a young man to the atrocities of war. And what of the grieving parents, who hear time after time that their children assumed the risk, when they signed on the bottom line? The message seems to be that if their children were better athletes, they’d still be alive today. And in the midst of the controversy, itself, there is Caleb Campbell, victimized by the pressures of both sides of the argument.

I personally oppose the war in Iraq, while giving full support to the troops. I can only wish they were all better athletes. Do I think the new Military ruling is fair? I’m not sure. It bothers me that sport marks the separation between a soldier and his classmates. But at the same time, we get these great stories of our military saving Iraqi lives, so why is it a bad thing when we save one of our own?

But in all, Caleb Campbell has a military education, and an NFL contract. Everytime his name is mentioned or images are shown, the controversy will swirl. As a military man, he was given the choice to live for a game or possibly die for his country. Tillman chose his country. Campbell chose the game. I can't tell you which is right or question any loyalties, but I can tell you that for the first time ever, the popular phrase, "being thrown to the lions", has new meaning.

1 comment:

Ray-Ray said...

awesome article baller