Ravens linebacker Diego Fagot is among four Naval Academy athletes who have received permission from the Department of Defense to play professional sports, the academy announced Sunday.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III on Saturday granted approval under directive-type memorandum 19-011 issued Nov. 8, 2019. This policy, titled “Military Service Academy Graduates Who Wish to Participate in Professional Sports,” allowed service academy graduates to engage in professional sports immediately after graduation.
Athletes eligible for the policy are permitted to graduate from their respective service academies, but are not commissioned as officers. Upon completion of their professional careers, these individuals are commissioned and must complete their mandatory military duty of at least five years.
Soccer player Michael McMorris, basketball player Jennifer Coleman, and soccer player Matt Nocita join Fagot as Naval Academy athletes licensed to practice professional sports. All four athletes will enroll in either the Navy or Marine Corps Individual Ready Serve upon graduation from the academy on Friday.
“I know that Jennifer, Diego, Michael and Matthew will take every opportunity on and off the field to competently represent the Navy and Marine Corps to the American people and assist us in our recruiting efforts,” said Vice Admiral Sean Buck Superintendent of the Naval Academy said in a statement.
Fagot posted on Twitter that he intends to sign with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent. However, when the Ravens officially announced their undrafted free agent class for 2022, the name of the two-time first-team All-American Athletic Conference inside linebacker was not included.
The capital later learned that the US Navy would not allow current midshipmen to sign professional contracts as it was considered a sideline. Sunday’s announcement would allow Fagot to now officially sign a contract with the Ravens.
Fagot, who was offered an undrafted free agent contract by the Ravens after the 2022 NFL draft last month, had selected the Marine Corps Ground as his duty assignment.
Divine Sports and Entertainment’s Ryan Williams-Jenkins, who represents McMorris, who was invited as an undrafted free agent to attend the Washington Commanders’ rookie free agent minicamp, welcomed the Defense Secretary’s decision. Williams-Jenkins, a former Navy football player, believes allowing Service Academy athletes to play professional sports while the window is open is positive for everyone involved.
“As an NFL agent, Naval Academy graduate and former Navy officer, I think the decision is a win for these young men and women, our service academies and armed forces. These athletes have the opportunity to fulfill both their dreams of serving in the armed forces and competing in professional sports,” Williams-Jenkins said in a statement.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit and attract the best talent. These opportunities keep us competitive as a military force and allow us to continue to recruit and retain the best naval officers. I think this decision shows that our sports programs are supported at the highest level.”
McMorris had been assigned as a surface warfare officer.
Tim O’Donohue, Navy men’s soccer coach, said Nocita, who was drafted seventh overall by the New York Red Bulls in the first round of the 2022 Major League Soccer SuperDraft, will sign a contract next week as the “first team ” to sign in Major League Soccer and is also moving to the Red Bulls on June 1. New York has already played 12 games and is almost halfway through the regular season, which ends on October 9th.
Nocita was slated for training as a Marine Corps ground officer.
“Now Matt has his chance and I think he’s going to make the most of it,” O’Donohue said.
Coleman, who was offered an undrafted preferred free agent contract by the Washington Mystics following the 2022 WNBA draft earlier this month, was released by the Mystics on day one of training camp, leaving it unclear what her future career in basketball is. Navy women’s basketball coach Tim Taylor said Coleman is still considering her options.
She had been assigned as a surface warfare officer.
Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk and football coach Ken Niumatalolo did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday’s announcement. Fagot and McMorris could not be reached either.
Prior to the current policy, instituted at the request of former President Donald Trump, the Department of Defense continually changed its approach to whether Naval Academy graduates could pursue professional sports.
Former Navy baseball pitcher Mitch Harris, a 2008 academy graduate who was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 13th round of the 2008 MLB draft, had to complete his entire five-year stint as a surface warfare officer. He resumed his professional baseball career after retiring from active duty.
Harris beat the odds by making it to the majors in April 2015 as a 29-year-old rookie, becoming the first Naval Academy graduate to reach the majors since Nemo Gaines in 1921.
Harris twice applied for early release from the Navy — in 2010 after two years on active duty and again in 2012 after four years — and both applications were denied.
In 2012, Harris was told he must fulfill his obligation on the same day that former Navy football player Eric Kettani was released early so he could join the NFL’s New England Patriots. Kettani was able to replace his last two years of active duty with six years in the Naval Reserve and was asked to pay back a pro rata portion of his training, which totaled $60,000.
The Department of Defense implemented what it called the “Alternative Service Option,” which allowed Service Academy graduates to be released from active duty after two years to pursue activities of public relations or public service benefit to the Army, Navy, or Air Force provide recruitment.
For many years, Army and Air Force graduates from West Point and Colorado Springs were allowed into the program. However, the Navy steadfastly refused to allow naval academy graduates to pursue this option. Kettani was the first Naval Academy graduate to be paroled to pursue professional sports since Hall of Famer David Robinson in 1989.
In May 2016, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced during his inaugural address at the Naval Academy graduation ceremony that he had approved former Navy football players Keenan Reynolds and Chris Swain to apply for the NFL effective immediately.
Reynolds, a star quarterback for the Midshipmen, was drafted in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Ravens, while Swain signed as an undrafted free agent with the then-San Diego Chargers. Reynolds made his NFL debut with the Seattle Seahawks in September 2018.
Carter’s ruling also paved the way for former Navy football player Joe Cardona, who was selected in the fifth round by the Patriots in 2015, to receive an early release from his military engagement and join the Patriots on a full-time basis.
Former Navy football player Malcolm Perry was the first Service Academy athlete to benefit from Trump’s directive. Perry was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL draft and has appeared in nine games this season, scoring a touchdown in the season finale.
Last year, former Navy footballer Cameron Kinley had to fight for his chance to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after being signed as an undrafted free agent. However, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas W. Harker refused Kinley’s request that his military engagement be deferred and ordered him to serve as an ensign.
Kinley appealed this decision to the Board for Correction of Naval Records, arguing that Harker’s decision was a mistake or an injustice that needed to be corrected. After considering the petition, the Board of Correction of Naval Records made a recommendation, which Harker approved and forwarded to the Secretary of Defense.
Austin, the Secretary of Defense, then rescinded Kinley’s commission, granted his request to delay commissioning, and placed the 2021 Naval Academy graduate with enlisted status in the Individual Ready Reserve.
Kinley attended a training camp with the Buccaneers but was released on August 15. After failing to sign with another team, Kinley was reinstated and began serving as a Navy intelligence officer.