Cameron Kinley had been adamant from the start. The former Navy football cornerback didn’t want out of his military requirement; he only hoped to delay his service, as many service academy graduates have done before.
But Kinley thought his “childhood dream” had been crushed last month when Thomas W. Harker, the acting secretary of the Navy, denied Kinley’s request, opting against forwarding it to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
After a month of unknowns, though, Kinley has an answer. Austin approved Kinley’s waiver for a deferral from active service, setting the undrafted rookie up with the chance to chase his NFL dream with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during training camp.
Cameron Kinley (@ck3thethrill) July 6, 2021
“I am extremely appreciative of Secretary Austin’s decision and I’m excited to represent our fine military in the National Football League,” Kinley said in a statement. “This past month has been very challenging and I’m thankful for everyone who has supported me in any way.”
In a statement, Austin said Kinley will be placed in the Inactive Ready Reserve for the duration of his football career.
“Upon completion of his playing time, we look forward to welcoming him back inside the ranks as a naval officer,” Austin said in a statement. “In the meantime, we know Cameron will take every opportunity on and off the field to ably represent the Navy and the military to the American people and to assist us in our recruiting efforts. I applaud Navy leadership for finding this way to showcase both Cameron‘s athletic prowess, as well as the quality and professionalism of our student athletes and our personnel.”
President Biden said in a statement he was “pleased” with the news that Austin had granted Kinley a deferral to pursue his football career before completing his service requirement as a naval officer.
“I am confident that Cameron will represent the Navy well in the NFL, just as he did as a standout athlete and class president at the Naval Academy,” Biden said. “After his NFL career is over, he will continue to make us proud as an officer in the United States Navy.”
The situation was confusing to Kinley and his agent, Ryan Williams-Jenkins, because there’s a precedent in place for players receiving deferments. President Donald Trump issued a directive in 2019 to allow military academy athletes to defer their service requirements until after their sports careers conclude.
The Miami Dolphins drafted Naval Academy graduate Malcolm Perry in the seventh round of the 2020 draft once Perry secured his deferral, and Army’s Elijah Riley signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent.
Before Kinley joined their grouping, four players from Air Force and Army signed with NFL teams this year: Jon Rhattigan (Seahawks), Nolan Laufenberg (Broncos), George Silvanic (Rams) and Parker Ferguson (Jets).
“While I acknowledge that these men are from different branches of the armed services,” Kinley said in a statement last month, “it puzzles me as to why I am the only person to be denied this opportunity.”
At the time, Capt. Jereal Dorsey — who is the special assistant for public affairs for the Secretary of the Navy — said the mission of the Naval Academy “is to develop young men and women to commission as officers in the Navy or Marine Corps.” Capt. Dorsey added that “exceptions to that commitment to serve have been rightfully rare.”
The Navy didn’t respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon regarding the reversal to allow Kinley to participate in the Buccaneers’ training camp.
Kinley is a longshot to make the 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie. He recorded 88 tackles, one interception, one sack and one forced fumble during his four-year Navy career, during which he became the team captain and class president — a rare combination.
“Thank you to my village for standing beside me,” Kinley wrote in a statement. “Without my family and close friends, there is no way I would be where I am today.”
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