Detroit Lions: The Caleb Campbell Quandary

Mick MillerAnalyst IMay 8, 2008

I have never served in any branch of the United States military and am a staunch supporter of anyone who has or does. Whether its war time or not, whether its in the field or behind a desk, it takes courage and fortitude to enlist in my opinion. In my support, I also greatly respect the parents, spouses, children, relatives and friends who are directly affected by those who serve. Whether or not I agree with the war in Iraq, I believe it is a must to support the troops because they represent our country.

I am also a Detroit Lions, NFL, and general all-around sports fan as is many of Americans as well as military personnel. It is not hard to imagine the relief a sports fan serving over seas gets from the distraction sports can bring them and the sense of normalcy following their teams and players. The 2008 NFL Draft brought about an intriguing debate in its last round; the status of Lion draft pick, safety Caleb Campbell from Army.

At the time of his selection, I really didn't think it was that big of a deal. He is a football player, a player who plays defense which the Lions are in dire need of, and of course, available. Was I touched by his story? Of course. Did I mind the ovation he got at Radio City Music Hall? Not in the least. I will admit, I did not know of the new rule the Army has implemented where it concerns professional sports. After I was informed, I still didn't have any concerns over Campbell's selection.

At first, I wondered if this was a ploy by the team. Matt Millen has been under fire for years here and his popularity isn't about to improve regardless. Head coach Rod Marinelli is a veteran of the Vietnam War and brings a militaristic tone to his team and staff. Was this pick, considered by many as "the feel good story" of the draft, an attempt to play to the football fans of not only the Motor City, but the nation? I would not be surprised, but it was my cynical Lion mind that placed it in my mind.

I thought it a wise pick and it getting the reaction it got was a bonus to me. Frankly, the Lions can use any positive publicity and recognition it can get. After years of continued futility, its about time he had something to smile about if we cannot celebrate division championships, playoff wins of even a Super Bowl appearance let alone a win. I really did not expect the debate to be so strong on the "rule" and the vast array of emotions and opinions the issue has spawned.

Because Campbell was drafted by a professional team, he has the option of not being deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. He can serve as an Army recruiter and "general ambassador" and with his new-found popularity is considered an asset to draw recruits to West Point. It makes sense that high-profile West Point graduates could be very valuable in this regard. And for an guy who could have remained anonymous his entire life, Campbell's new found fame as an NFL player (providing he makes the team, which I don't see how he gets cut), means even more of the public eye.

Wow, how far and beyond the football field this truly is, and I feel somewhat disappointed in myself that I don't feel stronger about one side or the other. My father served in the Army and fought in the Korean War and I have cousins that have been, are in line to go, or are in Iraq. For my family members, I hope they are safe and sound and come back home just as they left. I wish our country could bring the war to a positive end and bring everyone home. To concern myself with whether or not Caleb Campbell should stay and play or be assigned as if he did not get a shot at pro football simply doesn't make my list of priorities.

Considered a better tackler than cover man, Campbell may be groomed to add a little bulk and become a linebacker for the Lions. After signing Dwight Smith and Kalvin Pearson and having holdovers Gerald Alexander and Daniel Bullocks, safety may not be a pressing need. Nevertheless, a versatile defender that can be a fit for the Tampa Two and play multiple positions is always welcome. Marinelli is interested in Campbell as a player, not because of his military background or sentimental appeal. Marinelli explains:

“I don’t have a whole lot of sentimental. That’s just me. I like guys who run, hit and tackle, and if he does that, then I’m pretty sentimental. He was a draft-eligible player. My job is to find guys who can play football, and if he’s draft-eligible, you would expect me to find him.”

Campbell has obviously received many good wishes and encouragement, which I don't have a problem with. As I've said, to go through four years of education and training at West Point is extremely commendable and any role he may be able to fill is to be applauded. It is my understanding that not all graduates go into combat automatically. I also have read that is is likely Caleb would have been assigned to Iraq or Afghanistan. This is where the debate heats up.

There are those, both former military personnel and others, who believe Campbell should not have the NFL opportunity. Some talk of the estimated $250,000 it takes for a four-year program at West Point and how it is financed. Some ask how can Campbell even look his classmates in the face. Questions of his loyalties and priorities have made their way into the papers and talk radio. Words like "abandon" are bandied about.

Campbell has remained steadfast and while taken aback by the new celebrity, says the "nasty" letters are minimal but troubling but that the positive greatly outweighs the negative and it is the support from soldiers that inspires him to chase his dream and play in the National Football League.

"I've gotten some nasty letters from people questioning what I'm doing, asking me how I can look my classmates in the face," Campbell recounts. "But that's been a very small minority. On the day I was drafted I got over 300 e-mails, lots of them from soldiers serving overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those guys said they were behind me and so were their commanding officers."

The Army has enacted this rule while the Air Force and Navy have not. The Lions also have Army defensive lineman Cameron Craig and Air Force linebacker Drew Fowler trying out in camp. While the debate is liable to continue, Fowler is hoping for a similar chance and is hopeful.

“It definitely looks positive for us with what Army’s done allowing Caleb to get drafted and this and that,” Fowler states. “This biggest thing, what it boils down to for me in my case is, I have to make a team first. Once that happens, that opens up a lot of doors.”

This is where sports and real life collide with resounding  impact. Who is right and wrong is up for grabs and is a matter of opinion. With opinions coming from each side of those doors, opening them may not be pleasant to start, but also may be a nice change from simply slamming them shut.