Here’s a story that’s as American as apple pie, baseball, and voter suppression. It involves naivety, racism, politics, football, the military, and faux patriotism. It checks all the boxes.
You’ve probably never heard of Cameron Kinley — in full transparency, I hadn’t either until a few days ago. The former Navy Midshipmen just graduated, and starred at cornerback for Navy. His football dreams came true when he signed a free-agent contract with the defending champion Tampa Bay Bucs and played during rookie minicamp. Then Kinley’s story became an American nightmare, as he won’t be spending the summer and fall trying to make the Buccaneers final roster because the military won’t let him.
Here’s where racism and politics come into play.
Remember when Trump was in office and he was showing up at Army/Navy games doing all he could to increase his popularity – even though he reportedly said that troops, veterans, and missing service members were “dumb” and “losers?”
Well, in 2019, Trump tried to gain even more popularity by telling the Pentagon to allow service academy graduates to delay their service requirements so that they could play pro sports. But, here’s the twist. Trump was trying to take credit for something that the Obama Administration had been doing, but Trump’s administration shut down once in office. Obama’s team was granting military academy athletes reserve status so that they could turn pro. That was until Trump’s Defense Department revoked that policy.
“Our military academies exist to develop future officers who enhance the readiness and the lethality of our military services,” Pentagon officials wrote in May 2017. “Graduates enjoy the extraordinary benefit of a military academy education at taxpayer expense.”
This is where naivety and football come in.
As a Black man – from Memphis – Kinley believed things worked on merit and equality in this country. He watched as fellow servicemen like Jon Rhattigan (Army), Nolan Laufenberg (Air Force), and George Silvanic (Air Force) all received approval to delay their service for the NFL, according to Ryan Williams-Jenkins, co-founder of Kinley’s agency, Divine Sports and Entertainment, per a report from the Washington Post.
However, those three men are white. Kinley isn’t.
“It was definitely a quick turn of events, given at three days to graduation my whole course of life kind of changed unexpectedly,” Kinley told the Washington Post, as he has dreams of one day becoming this country’s second Black male president. “I pretty much didn’t get any explanation, any specific reasoning. [Commandant Thomas R. Buchanan] denied it, and then he informed me that there’s no appeal process. So you kind of go from there, which is the part that I guess is troubling to me the most. I don’t really know why I was denied, other than the fact that he wants me to serve immediately, I guess.”
Kinley is the perfect example of why people of color get angry when certain white people say, “Why does everything have to be about race?” Well, given the circumstances around this story, everything about it is about race. And as usual, we aren’t the ones that made it that way,
Here’s where we add the military and faux patriotism to the mix.
Kinley – a political science major at a service academy who was class president and has dreams of a future in politics – checked all the boxes of what the military supposedly says it wants these types of athletes to be, but the Navy still told him no. According to the Washington Post’s report, The Associated Press reported that, in 2019, then-Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper wrote a memo that declared that military service secretaries can nominate a graduate for a waiver to play pro sports if there “is a strong expectation that a Military Service Academy cadet or midshipman’s future professional sports employment will provide the [Department of Defense] with significant favorable media exposure likely to enhance national level recruiting or public affairs missions.”
And boom, there it is.
As much as this is about race, it’s also about military service academies trying to pimp their graduates as billboards. If this faux patriotism sounds familiar, it should. In 2015, John McCain and Jeff Flake discovered that the Department of Defense spent $53 million on patriotic displays at sporting events, which included more than $10 million paid to teams in the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and MLS.
The military doesn’t believe Kinley is the “right type” of American for the job, which is on-brand given this country’s history. A part of me is disappointed in Kinley for not having a better understanding of how rigged the game is, given that he’s a member of the very system that is denying him of a potential future in the NFL. The other half of me is exhausted by the structures of a corrupt system that allow things like this to happen.
As this story has gained attention over the last few days, the Navy released a statement to the Washington Post about how they’re declining all recent requests. How convenient. I’m not buying it, and you shouldn’t either.
“It’s not because I wasn’t excited to graduate and to commission and to serve the country, because it’s been one of my dreams and one of my goals,” Kinley told the Washington Post. “But I felt like somebody had snatched away a piece of me because it goes back to just all the hard work and all the adversity I had to overcome to get to that point. And for somebody to just be able to take that opportunity away from me, it just didn’t sit well, especially with no explanation.”
Those words can be assigned to just about any Black person that’s ever tried to achieve something in this country. And sadly enough, it’s better he learned these life lessons sooner rather than later, as they’ll be vital to his survival and future.
As I said, this is an authentic American tale.