Caleb Campbell Re-Drafted by Army

Remember the feel-good story from the end of this April’s NFL draft when West Point’s Caleb Campbell was selected by the Detroit Lions? (If not, click the link.)  Well, the Army has changed its mind:

Caleb Campbell will not get a chance to play for the Detroit Lions because of a change in military policy.

Campbell was a seventh-round draft pick for the Lions in April. At the time, Army policy would have allowed the West Point graduate to serve as a recruiter if he made the team.  But a subsequent Department of Defense policy has superseded the 2005 Army policy. In a letter to Lions president Matt Millen dated Wednesday, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jonathan P. Liba wrote that Campbell has been ordered to give up professional football for “full-time traditional military duties.”

Liba wrote that 2nd Lt. Campbell may ask to be released from his active duty obligations in May 2010.  Liba said Campbell was allowed to enter the draft “in good faith.”

The old policy, which had never been invoked, was controversial.  After all, the military academies exist to prepare future combat leaders, not millionaire pro athletes. It was especially a hard sell during a time of war to claim that the high visibility Campbell brought to West Point and the Army was somehow equivalent to his classmates’ going off to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Still, the fact of the matter is that it was the policy in 2005, when Campbell made the fateful step to start his junior year at USMA and thus take on the obligations of military service.  Further, it was the policy when the Lions, also acting in good faith, devoted a precious draft pick on him.

This is truly a bizarre turn of events.

More Caleb Campbell Coverage:

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. mike says:

    Yet another setback for West Point football – time to drop out of Div I ball – they had a hard enough time getting top athletes before this – this will only hurt recruiting athletes even more – I wouldn’t be surprised if a few folks weigh in on this and decide to let him play – the Army needs some good PR right now.

  2. sam says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if a few folks weigh in on this and decide to let him play – the Army needs some good PR right now.

    With other folks going through their third or fourth deployments in Iraq, I’d be mightly surprised if the Army relented.

  3. just me says:

    While I empathize with him to some degree-he went to West Point, he was trained to be a soldier and a leader at the expense of the taxpayer. If the Army needs him and there is a war on, then he goes.

  4. Boyd says:

    Yeah, but this is just another case of a military service promising one thing to their folks, and then when the time comes for the service to hold up their end of the bargain, they decide to change the rules.

    Lord knows they wouldn’t let 2nd Lt Campbell change his mind at this late date, would they? Nope, he’d be tried, convicted and booted out of the Army with a General-OTH, at best. Maybe even the Big Chicken Dinner.

    As mike said, this is going to do the Academy’s recruitment efforts no good.

  5. mike says:

    Officers can’t get a BCD – only a dismissal at a court-martial

  6. just me says:

    Oh I don’t disagree with the affect the policy will have on recruitment, but in the end the service academies are about training leaders for military service not providing recruits to the NFL and other professional sports.

  7. Steve Z says:

    “Just me”, the point is not whether West Point should be in the business of providing recruits an opportunity to play pro ball. That is a legitimate discussion. The problem is that the discussion took place already, and as James notes, the DoD decided in favor of the policy.

    Now that there has been some heat (though strangely I have not heard any until today), the DoD changes course midstream. When you graduate from a school that prides itself on the honor code, it seems you would expect that bargains made there would be honored.

    But this is just one in a long line of examples of the DoD not honoring its obligations to soldiers/officers. It really is shameful.

    As I stated earlier, there is a valid discussion to be had about whether this policy should have ever existed, but since it did, it should be honored for those who relied on it. The best way for the DoD to handle this would be to change the policy today for everyone matriculating into an Academy from here on, but if you enrolled while the policy was in effect, it should be honored.

  8. Observer says:

    Only two things matter in this case: West Point policy of letting its graduates apply for the NFL draft and play in the league upon selection was in place when Campbell enrolled in 2005. Now West Point has decided to change the rule, after Campbell had admirably served his duty and was ready to join the Armed Forces if he was not drafted. This is an unjust action, which shouldn’t occur within any branch of military service in the United States of America.

  9. Mike says:

    The DOD did NOT agree to the policy. In fact, the opposite is true. This was a case of the Army trying to get away with something.

    The policy was not in place when Campbell enrolled.

  10. Fence says:

    he was trained to be a soldier and a leader at the expense of the taxpayer.

    As one of those taxpayers, can I say we’d get a much better return on that investment taxing his NFL salary?

  11. Boyd says:

    The policy was not in place when Campbell enrolled.

    Maybe not, I didn’t follow the ins and outs of the discussion. But it was certainly in place when the Lions expended a draft pick on him.

  12. JoeMac3313 says:

    Lt Campbell has handled the situation with all the class the Army has not. Look at the larger picture for Army recruiting which has been a little underwhelming recently. This is a crippling blow that is receiving bad PR on major sports sites and the backlash has been overwhelmingly bad. As a 7th rounder Campbell was a long shot but the Army would have received an amount of good publicity that would have helped recruiting. Remember this line from ‘Good Morning Vietnam’, “if it is being done right, here or abroad, it is not being done by the U.S. Army.”

  13. markm says:

    DoD rules aside…as a Michigander, trust me, they are doing him a favor.

  14. MJ says:

    The Army isn’t recalling him because they want to. They’re recalling him because they’re being forced to by the Secretary of Defense. The Army certainly did mishandle the issue, but it was on the front end, not the back end. They never should have violated DOD orders by letting Campbell play in the first place.

  15. Rick Almeida says:

    Interestingly, Lt. Campbell was interviewed on Sirius NFL Radio this afternoon, and he was asked about his upcoming duty assignment. Now that he won’t be in Lions training camp, Campbell will report for duty…

    …as a graduate assistant at West Point, on the coaching staff of the football team.

  16. Mike says:

    This whole story pisses me off. This kid hasn’t done anything in his military career, all he’s done is go to an extrememly strict college. How many players have been drafted from Army ever? If he wanted to play in the NFL he should have went to a 4 year college. You go to a military school to join the military, not puss out because you may go to war. I was in the Marine Corp. and was injured over in Iraq and hearing about all the credit this kids getting for doing nothing is total bulls!#$. He should give credit not to himself because he doesn’t deserve any, but to the men and women over there now, who are brave and courageous enough to fight for their country.