The US Army signed an exception to regulations Thursday night to allow a West Point graduate to play in the NFL, waiving some of his required active duty service time in the Army, according to defense officials.
The move comes months after a White House ceremony in which President Donald Trump told the West Point football team that he was seeking to change regulations to allow academy graduates to try out for the NFL prior to fulfilling their military service obligation, a reversal of a policy established by former Defense Secretary James Mattis.
A defense official said that acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy signed the Army exception Thursday night that would allow Brett Toth, a 2018 graduate of the Military Academy at West Point, to join a professional football team rather than fully complete the military service required after his Academy graduation.
The required service obligation period for West Point graduates is typically five years, but graduates who want to play professional sports are generally required to serve a minimum of two years on active duty and determinations are subsequently made as to how and whether they serve the balance of the five-year obligation.
The Philadelphia Eagles have expressed interest in signing Toth, who had yet to complete his active duty military commitment. The Army exception granted Thursday could pave the way for Toth to sign a contract with Eagles as soon as Friday.
Toth, who graduated West Point in 2018, played 31 games for the academy’s football team, the Black Knights, as an offensive lineman before graduating and becoming an engineer officer. He is currently a second lieutenant and has been on active service since May 2018.
Toth is now expected to sign a contract with the Eagles to play on their practice team.
In lieu of serving out the remainder of his active duty obligation with his engineering battalion, the Army is expected to assign Toth to a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps unit in the Philadelphia area to work as an instructor when he is not participating in football practice sessions.
Under Army rules, Toth was obligated to serve at least one more year on active duty and then would be eligible to join the reserves to serve an additional three years of his minimal service obligation, the official said.
McCarthy’s action would be limited solely to Toth as a one-time exception, the official said. Defense Department policy established by Mattis required military personnel to fulfill their service obligations before they played professional sports.
In May, Trump suggested he would reverse that, saying he’s looking at “doing a waiver for service academy athletes who can get into the major leagues,” adding that those players can serve in the military after they play professionally.
“I think it’s a great idea. I think it’s really fair, too,” Trump said during remarks at a White House ceremony to celebrate the West Point football team.
Allowing academy graduates to play professional sports prior to fulfilling their service obligations had been the policy under former Obama Defense Secretary Ash Carter, but was reversed by Mattis at the start of the Trump administration. Current Defense Secretary Mark Esper is reviewing whether to change the policy across the board.