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.