Shortly after the NFL Draft, I was looking for an interesting story to tackle in my sports column. My then Editor-in-Chief essentially gave me a blank canvas every issue, and this paper was no different.
There was an interesting opportunity for me in that issue. Caleb Campbell, a safety from Army, had been drafted in the seventh round by the Detroit Lions. My friend on the paper, Joe Choery, decided we’d collaborate on the column, directly debating whether or not Campbell should be able to play in the NFL and forego his active military duty.
Joe is an Army veteran, but also vehemently liberal. He decided to let me take my stance, and he’d simply play “Devil’s Advocate”.
I had hoped he’d be passionate about this issue, and that he’d choose a side, because I didn’t feel strongly one way or another.
He’s not a sports writer, but a political columnist, and he torched my arguments that Campbell should be allowed to play in the NFL, though he genuinely leaned toward my point of view.
On draft day, a few days before we started our column, Campbell received more attention than any seventh-round pick that I can think of.
He was a warm story in an era of international relations that many people feel very coldly about.
Now, a few months later, our column has already become obsolete.
Unfortunately, no matter how it is spun, this has potential to be a major PR black eye for the Army.
It may seem naïve to assume that that branch of military would be concerned with PR, but in this age of information and education, the United States Armed Services have had to resort to the same tactics of major corporations in the United States, advertising.
Television ads, print ads, and recruiters on high school campuses have become the United States' means of acquiring new soldiers.
Considering that, Campbell could have been a major figure in the Army’s ad campaign, and subsequently a major contributor to the increasingly less-positive image that George W. Bush is sure to endure, historically.
At the time, and possibly still, the Army was showing a commercial that featured several veterans in various jobs, many of them high-paying authority positions, giving credit to the Army for helping them reach their goals. What better ambassador than a guy who puts on pads and a helmet every Sunday in the fall?
After severely botching the Pat Tillman situation, where Tillman handled his entry and service in the Army with the utmost honor and respect for his fellow soldiers, dying in combat, and being masqueraded as a hero after actually being killed by friendly fire, the Army needed Campbell.
As Joe and I were discussing the column, we both expressed concern that had Campbell been forced to join the military, he would take on the public persona of Prince Harry, Princess Diana’s son, a cosmically unimportant person, especially in England’s current government structure, whose public importance would be magnified unfairly on both sides of the partisan fence.
Now, Campbell’s actions will be watched constantly, his life and service time will be more important to the public than any other soldier in the military, apart from the one’s they know personally.
Pat Tillman was able to enter combat with a sense of anonymity, despite the fanfare that surrounded his enlistment.
Unfortunately for Campbell, he’s been granted the complete opposite.