In an about-face, the Department of Defense approved the request of cornerback Cameron Kinley to delay his Navy commission so he could play in the N.F.L., concluding a weekslong saga in which Kinley had initially been denied the chance to pursue a pro football career.
The defense secretary, Lloyd J. Austin III, announced that Kinley would be enlisted in the Inactive Ready Reserve and be expected to serve in the Navy after his time in the N.F.L. ended.
“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,” Austin said in a statement. “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.”
Kinley, a team captain and class president at the U.S. Naval Academy, had applied to delay his five-year service commitment after graduating this spring. He signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the reigning Super Bowl champions, as an undrafted free agent and attended rookie minicamp in May.
But the acting secretary of the Navy, Thomas W. Harker, in June declined the request without an explanation. The situation received national attention, and Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, wrote to President Biden, urging him to intervene.
Kinley said repeatedly that he intended to eventually complete his commitment, and his representatives at Divine Sports and Entertainment, in a statement, pointed to recent allowances made for football players from other service branch schools. Army allowed Jon Rhattigan to delay his service and join the Seattle Seahawks, as did Air Force for Nolan Laufenberg, who joined the Denver Broncos, and George Silvanic, who joined the Los Angeles Rams.
“It’s kind of a Catch-22. I know he wants to attempt to be a professional football player, but he obviously means a ton to the Navy,” Buccaneers Coach Bruce Arians said at mandatory minicamp in June. “So I’ll leave that up to them. Would love to have him, because I thought he showed promising signs when he was here.”
Lt. Cmdr. Patricia Kreuzberger, a Navy spokeswoman, said Kinley submitted a petition to the Board for Correction of Naval Records, which recommended that his service commission be rescinded. Harker endorsed the recommendation and forwarded it to Austin, Kreuzberger said.
Kinley, in a statement on Tuesday, thanked Rubio; the N.F.L. Players Association president, DeMaurice Smith; and his agents for their lobbying. Kinley, who recorded 88 tackles at Navy, will now attempt to make the Buccaneers’ active roster when training camp starts later this month.
“The most valuable lesson I’ve learned throughout this whole process,” Kinley said, “is to trust his timing and remain confident in the fact that God will always prevail.”
The official policy for graduates of service academies pursuing careers as professional athletes has changed repeatedly in the last few years, with athletes required to pay back the costs of attending their academy if they immediately play professionally without earning a waiver. During the Obama administration, graduates could continue their athletic career immediately if they were granted reserve status. But President Donald J. Trump in 2017 rescinded that policy, only to direct the Department of Defense to re-enact it again in 2019 after hosting the Army football team at the White House. Biden, in a statement on Tuesday, said he supported the Pentagon’s decision.
“I am confident that Cameron will represent the Navy well in the N.F.L., just as he did as a standout athlete and class president at the Naval Academy. After his N.F.L. career is over, he will continue to make us proud as an officer in the United States Navy.”