Caleb Campbell Was Drafted

So I’m sure that you’ve already heard that the Detroit Lions selected Army’s Caleb Campbell in the 7th round of the NFL Draft. And I’m sure that most of you are checking the site today expecting me to say something about it. I’m not sure what’s left to be said, though. It’s a bad policy on so many levels. But I don’t feel like going through all of that again, at least not right now.

There are still a few related things to talk about, I guess. Supporters of this policy will point to yesterday’s draft coverage on ESPN, with rowdy fans in the balcony chanting Campbell’s name, as an example of the great Army publicity that’s headed our way. If they say so… We’ll get to that. Not that it should be the role of a service* academy to produce graduates for the sake of promoting itself. Duty, Honor, Country, Publicity? Doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Ah, but the talking point that Campbell was clearly instructed to say (since he’s said the exact same thing in more than one interview) was that he is in fact serving, just in a different way. In what way will that be? Well, according to USA Today:

Campbell will still be on active duty. He’ll serve as a recruiter, spending his Tuesday off days from the Lions visiting high schools and working.

Four years and a quarter of a million dollars, people. All to produce someone who’ll only work for the Army on those Tuesdays when the Lions don’t need him. Way to put the “service” in service* academy, West Point. Those people cheering for Campbell at the draft weren’t cheering for this policy. They were cheering for the ideal that the uniform is supposed to represent. The uniform is supposed to represent self-sacrifice undertaken on behalf of the Constitution and the American people. Talking to high schoolers on Tuesdays just isn’t the same, no matter how it gets spun. Is recruiting important work? Absolutely– that’s why the services generally put some of their best performers in those billets. They serve as role models, giving recruits a glimpse of what they might become. They get these positions based on a track record of excellence in service that Campbell won’t have. Of course, this isn’t Campbell’s fault. He’s just following a path that the Army laid out for him. It would be nice, though, if the Army would have the decency to stop using him as their talking point parrot. Sure, Campbell’s a soldier. The same way Kellen Winslow is.

It isn’t going to take long for people to figure all this out. People cheer for service* academies not for what they do as cadets and midshipmen, but for what they’ve committed to do in the future as officers. Campbell received applause for wearing the uniform, but eventually people will start saying, “Hey, wait a minute.” Deadspin seems to be the first to realize that Campbell is being treated like a hero when he hasn’t done anything. They won’t be the last.

In other news, has anyone considered the publicity impact if Campbell doesn’t make the team? Let’s be honest, now– 7th rounders aren’t exactly the stuff that legends are made of. And while Campbell passes the look test, he wasn’t that good. He lost a step after his knee surgery. And although he has a reputation as a hard hitter, I sort of laughed while watching the highlights that ESPN & the NFL Network were showing of Ray Rice and Tulane’s Matt Forte because half of them showed Rice and Forte breaking Campbell tackles. Navy fans will remember his little do-si-do with Lamar Owens at the ’05 Army-Navy game. I’m not going to pretend that I’m some crack NFL talent evaluator, but history would suggest that players drafted in the 7th round are a longshot to make the team. So what does that have to do with publicity? Let’s look at the headline of that USA Today article. It reads, Army’s Campbell drafted by Lions, not headed to Iraq. Later, the article calls the NFL Campbell’s “ticket out of Iraq.” So if Campbell gets cut, how is that story going to be presented? As the end of a dream? How going to the regular Army is such a downer?  But isn’t the point of all this “good PR” to try to generate recruits who are willing to go into the Army? To go to places like Iraq and Afghanistan? I’m sure there are ways to spin these things, and I’m sure that Caleb Campbell will say all the right things in that scenario. But with all the hoopla that’s being pushed about how great this is, it’ll be a hard act to sell.

Anyway, I am confident that the backlash is coming. If the mainstream press wasn’t aware of the policy before, they sure are now. I’ll be standing by.

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22 Responses

  1. At one time the Dallas Cowboys were “America’s Team.” Yesterday, Caleb Campbell became “America’s Player.” At a time when pro football is dominated by despicable characters like Michael Vick and Pacman Jones, Campbell is a breath of fresh air and people are responding to him (and to Army’s treatment of him) in a favorable way.

    At present the closest thing Navy has to Caleb Campbell is Kyle Eckel and while Eckel may not be in the same league (no pun intended) as Vick and Jones, he definitely is not the “all-american boy” the Army can portray Campbell to be.

  2. I don’t know why people keep bringing Kyle Eckel into the discussion. Eckel has absolutely nothing to do with this policy.

    It isn’t West Point’s job to save pro football’s reputation, and this “America’s Player” routine is going to be short-lived.

    http://blog.mlive.com/hugeblog/2008/04/huge_lions_pick_not_a_feelgood.html

  3. Observer,

    Caleb Campbell, and the fans reaction on draft day is fine for a purely “human interest” story. But judging policies on the basis of human-interest stories is something politicians do. It’s not that simple. There will be unintended consequences.

  4. “It isn’t West Point’s job to save pro football’s reputation.”

    Neither is bringing freedom to the Iraqi people.

    I watched the ESPN E:60 piece on Campbell and his interview on CNN. He is an impressive young man. People critical of the policy should refrain from the personal attacks. He does not deserve that.

  5. My son is graduating from USNA in a few short weeks and I have a very hard time with the fact that this young man (no mater how impressive he is) will be going to play a GAME while his classmates will be doing the right thing and honoring the commitment they made four years ago by putting themselves in harm’s way.

  6. Birddog you’re right on as usual about this. And the backlash has already started. Check this link from “Michigan Live” to see what one writer in Michigan, no less, thinks of this policy. (You may have to cut & paste this into your browser)

    http://blog.mlive.com/hugeblog/2008/04/huge_lions_pick_not_a_feelgood.html

  7. “Neither is bringing freedom to the Iraqi people.”

    Except that isn’t a decision that can be made by West Point. This is.

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  9. Did someone close down the parents website?

  10. Please Navy, do not institute this type of policy! I like good football, but not at the expense of duty, honor and loyalty. This is what sets our school apart from many Division I schools. Caleb seems like a good guy, no question. But I can’t see him being an effective recruiter of young High Schoolers to join the military when he ‘opted’ out.

  11. Army Coach Stan Brock’s statement to GoMids.com that West Point is “challenged in getting info out about the academy west of the Mississippi” reminded me of my own situation. Not knowing where you all are coming from (geograhpically speaking!) I thought I would share with you what my own experience has been.

    My son is coming to Annapolis as a recruited football player from California. After his commitment was publicized in our local paper (after LOI day) I soon realized how ignorant west coast people are regarding the institutions of Annapolis and West Point. Certainly, everyone here has heard of the Army – Navy game, but many think it’s just the Army versus the Navy and don’t understand that Universities are involved!

    Air Force does not have that problem. First, they have a geographic advantage. Second, they play in a recognized conference against schools that are very well known out here. (Of couse people here have heard of Notre Dame and Ohio State as well, but Towson, Tulane and Ball State? – not so much!)

    I will wait to form an opinion on this policy until after I’ve heard all of the pros and cons. However, I do understand that schools have to market themselves and the service academies are no exception. In fact marketing is exactly what your coaches are doing when they call recruits on the phone, visit them in their homes, and fly them in for official visits. Caleb Campbell’s celebrity is giving West Point national exposure and from a strictly marketing perspective that can only been as a good thing.

  12. To “West Coast Fan” – you will be happy to note that according to Bill Wagner’s blog in the Annapolis Capital, Navy is about to announce a four game home & home schedule with San Jose State. Will it help our name recognition on the west coast? Did our bowl appearances in San Diego and San Francisco help? A large number of people here in Alabama also have the same problem. The difference between ignorance and genius is that genius has its limitations.

  13. The service academies have no shortage of applicants. They market themselves to their target audience pretty well already.

  14. To “Dave’69”

    I was VERY happy to read about the Navy / San Jose State agreement. It is a definite plus for USNA because it’s comparable to the Air Force / San Diego State match up. This is a sign that Coach Niumatalolo does not want to concede the west (particulary California) to Air Force. Again, it’s all tied in with marketing and recruiting players that Navy can use to bring a quality product to the football field.

  15. WCF–
    That is certainly a difference between Niumat and PJ. Coach Niumatalolo was responsible for west coast recruiting as an assistant, and he’s clearly made the region a higher priority than it had been.

  16. It’s nice to look at the list of new recruits and see players from so many states (quick count on BD’s list of 71 recruits shows 23 different states). Of course I notice those from my current home – Alabama (J. Bryant was highly sought after several years ago as was Marcus Adrian this year) and my former home state – Georgia (Dobbs). There are some pretty good players in this part of the woods, even after the SEC takes theirs. It’s also nice to know that a very high percentage of these players will actually graduate and receive an outstanding college education (as opposed to attending and MAYBE receiving a degree in ???). The football coach at our local private school (one of the best schools in the state) was astounded last year when I showed him the article on our graduation rate. Although there are difficulties recruiting for Navy, we still have a lot to offer.

  17. TBD–

    You asked why bring Kyle Eckel into the discussion. He has nothing to do with the policy, but he is relevant to the story.

    From today’s Baltimore Examiner:

    “Three years ago, however, when Navy’s best football player, Kyle Eckel, tried to play in the NFL, he had to get kicked out of the Navy so he could play for the New England Patriots according to a source close to the situation.”

    In terms of PR, Army is better off with Caleb Campbell’s standing ovation broadcast live on ESPN to 15 million viewers then Navy is with Eckel.

  18. The only point the Examiner was making with that comment is that the same option is not available to Navy players. The Navy doesn’t use Eckel as a PR puppet.

    Frankly, the value of “good PR” is ridiculously overstated.

  19. You may feel the value of “good PR” is overstated but never underestimate what perception can do.

    Readers of the Examiner will draw the following conclusions:

    a) an Army cadet is in the NFL (whether you approve or not) but he followed the rules (as he found them)

    b) a Navy midshipman is in the NFL but he broke the rules (or found a way around them)

    I’ve done some research on Eckel since my previous post. Part of his “service” was coaching at NAPS (Is that considered active duty?) and he owes the Navy $92,000 for his early “retirement.” Clearly, Navy doesn’t use Eckel as a PR puppet because they effectively cannot.

  20. Yes, Campbell is following the rules and Eckel did not, and the Examiner is correct. There’s no conclusion to draw. Those are just the facts. So what? What is your point? The Navy does not, nor did it ever have any intention of using Eckel for PR. It is of no concern to the Navy if he can’t be portrayed as your “all-American boy.” He is wholly irrelevant to any discussion of this policy.

    As for coaching at NAPS, many recent graduates are “stashed” at USNA or NAPS doing odd jobs for a couple of months while they wait for their individual branch school slots to become available. It isn’t the scandal you apparently want it to be.

  21. To “Dave’69”

    Here’s another Alabama player for you!

    Austin Huckeba from Hoover High.

    I did not see his name on the list but the direct entry recruits are hooking up online via facebook so I heard about him from my son.

  22. Thanks for the info. After we warm up with Ohio State, I’m looking forward to Navy adding Alabama or Auburn to our schedule. (Better yet, – Jacksonville State which is only 12 miles away from me. Jax State opens its season this year against Georgia Tech.)

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