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Navy denies Bucs’ Cameron Kinley chance to pursue his NFL career

The undrafted free-agent defensive back had been told he could delay his commission. Now there’s no appeals process.
Navy initially told Cameron Kinley that it would delay his commission so he could also pursue an NFL career.
Navy initially told Cameron Kinley that it would delay his commission so he could also pursue an NFL career. [ JULIO CORTEZ | Associated Press (2019) ]
Published Jun. 7
Updated Jun. 7

TAMPA — When defensive back Cameron Kinley was being recruited out of high school by the U.S. Naval Academy, he was assured he would be able to also pursue his dream of playing in the NFL like other Midshipmen.

But the undrafted Bucs free agent’s request to have his commission delayed was denied by Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas W. Harker, ending his pro football career before it could get started. Kinley said he was given no written explanation.

Kinley was the U.S. Naval Academy’s 2021 class president and captain of the football team. He gave a speech and introduced Vice President Kamala Harris during a commencement ceremony last week.

Bucs coaches were impressed with Kinley during rookie minicamp, where he intercepted quarterback Kyle Trask and made several other pass breakups.

Not only did Harker deny Kinley’s opportunity to play in the NFL, he won’t allow him to appeal the decision.

Related: Navy’s Cameron Kinley takes command of his NFL future

“I’m well aware and embrace the commitment that I made to serve when I arrived at the Naval Academy and I’m not asking to set aside that commitment,” Kinley said in a letter to U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee). “Instead, I want to represent my country and the Navy as an NFL player just as other players have been able to do.

“If allowed to pursue an opportunity in the NFL, I will use the platform to promote service, respect for the armed services and show young men that they can succeed in the most demanding professions, no matter their background.”

Coming out of Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, Kinley was a three-sport star who earned varsity letters in basketball, football and track. His dream was to attend Vanderbilt. He also took visits to the U.S. Air Force Academy, Princeton and Yale.

According to Kinley’s agent, Ryan Williams-Jenkins, the Navy told Kinley they would delay his commission so he could also pursue an NFL career.

“As a Naval Academy graduate, football player and decorated combat veteran, I understand Cameron’s commitment. I also understand there are ways he can fulfill his commitment while representing the Navy and playing professional sports,” said Williams-Jenkins, co-founder of Divine Sports and Entertainment.

“I played with three-time Super Bowl champion Joe Cardona (Patriots), who still serves our country as a Navy reservist. If there is a directive and precedent allowing other service academy athletes to pursue this opportunity, what makes Cameron different? It is important to note that this could have a long-term impact on his mental health going forward. He wants to fulfill both of his childhood dreams, playing in the NFL and honorably serving his country.”

A year ago, Kinley’s Navy teammate, receiver Malcolm Perry, had his commission delayed so he could sign and play for the Miami Dolphins as a seventh-round draft pick. This year, four players from other service academies ― Parker Ferguson, Nolan Laufenberg and George Silvanic of the Air Force Academy and Jon Rhattigan from West Point ― have signed with NFL clubs.

“It’s the same provisions that are in place, so nothing has changed,” Williams-Jenkins said. “It’s just the decision that was made by the one individual.”

The news comes a day before Kinley was expected to report to the Bucs’ mandatory, full-squad minicamp.

“Cameron Kinley is an exceptional young man and a shining example of the type of high-character individuals that make our nation’s military the most elite in the world,” the Bucs said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times. ”We appreciate and support the United States Naval Academy’s position with regards to Cameron’s fulfillment of his post-graduate service commitment and remain hopeful that he will one day have an opportunity to also fulfill his dreams of playing professional football.”

Since signing with the Bucs, Kinley says he made multiple media appearances promoting the Naval Academy. He asked Blackburn for a “provisional waiver” to allow him to participate in minicamp while he attempts to appeal the decision.

“I have hopes that this situation will soon be overturned and that I can get back to competing on the field and representing the U.S. Navy,” Kinley wrote to Blackburn.

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