You know what they say about opinions…

May 12, 2008 | Drew Forrester

So, in the span of about 2 hours today, I lost a listener, gained an enemy and earned even more perspective into the world of sports radio.
 
And that was all before 11:00 am.
 
The Caleb Campbell story actually started back on April 27 when the Detroit Lions selected him in the seventh round of the NFL draft. Rather than link one story here about Caleb’s selection by the Lions and the ensuing controversy (linking just one story might lead people to question why I selected that specific link…) – I’ll simply advise you to “google” the name Caleb Campbell and you can read any and/or all the stories about him that were published in the days following his selection by the Lions.
 
In short, here’s the summary. Campbell attended West Point and was a member of the Army football team. Upon his graduation from West Point this spring, he was due to head to Iraq where he would have commanded a group of 32 in our ongoing confrontation overseas. Instead, he is now seeking to take advantage of a relatively new policy instituted by the U.S. Army that allows its members the opportunity to forego battlefield duties if they display “a unique or special talent”…here’s some more formal wording of the new policy:
 
In years past, military athletes had little hope of playing professional football due to their commitment to the service upon graduation. Army recently revised those requirements, leaving the door open for Campbell and other Cadets to pursue their dream of playing in the National Football League.
What Army has done is offer its top athletes a side door to professional sports. West Point has implemented an alternative service option program that allows cadets to turn pro — and play — right away. Cadets accepted into the program “will owe two years of active service in the Army, during which time they will be allowed to play their sport in the player-development systems of their respective organizations and be assigned to recruiting stations. If they remain in professional sports following those two years, they will be provided the option of buying out the remaining three years of their active-duty commitment in exchange for six years of reserve time.”

Anyway, on several occasions recently, this subject of Campbell and others in the military who were recently signed by NFL teams for the ’08 season has been a hot topic on The Comcast Morning Show. 

Such was the case today when “Bob in Parkville” called the show to express his anger at the military service academies for allowing these young men to escape their obligation to the battlefield and, instead, bask in the glow, glamour and finances of professional sports.
 
Bob, needless to say, was passionate on the subject.
 
I haven’t always agreed with everything Bob has said on either my show or on any WNST show he might appear on, but, in this case, I agree with him.
I believe that a young man (or young woman) who signs up for the military should follow through on their original commitment. Now, in this case, though, the U.S. Army has created a policy that provides wiggle room to anyone with “special and unique talents”, so I’m holding them directly responsible for allowing Caleb Campbell to pursue his professional football career at a time when he should be fulfilling his natural course of duties in Iraq. He went to West Point to train for the battlefield, not for Ford Field.
 
“Mike”, a listener – now FORMER listener – took great exception with my opinion today. Mike has a military background and went to great lengths today to explain that both Bob and I are wrong on this matter. Never mind that it’s our respective OPINION(s) that the U.S. Army is wrong for allowing Caleb Campbell to play football rather than fulfill his duties in Iraq. Mike says we’re wrong for thinking that way and chastised me for having an opinion on something that I’ve never before experienced – “perhaps you should try crawling through the mud with a rifle (once) before you criticize the manner in which the U.S. Army operates”, he wrote to me in an e-mail.
 
Well, if we used that theory as a barometer for sports talk radio, WNST wouldn’t exist, since none of us (I think) have ever thrown a pass in the NFL, stepped to the plate in major league baseball or hit a 3-point shot in Division I college basketball – yet we all see fit to comment, praise and criticize some of those situations every single day at 1570. Hell, no one in our listening audience has ever coached in the NFL and last January we had thousands of people claiming the ex-Ravens coach didn’t know what he was doing, right?
 
I have, through first hand experience, witnessed the shoddy way the V.A. Hospital treats this country’s veterans, but that’s not the hospital’s fault or their staff members – it’s the underfunded manner in which our government has chosen to operate the military hospitals that has led to the poor conditions, treatment and follow up care provided by the V.A.
 
Anyway, Mike is mad that I would criticize the U.S. Army and he’s not going to take it anymore. 
 
So, early this afternoon, he took to contacting WNST’s sponsors and calling for my ouster, huffing and puffing about my “disrespect for the military”. 
 
This is probably just about the time I would make a formal apology for “disrespecting the military”…that is, if an apology were indeed warranted here.
 
But it’s not.
 
I think the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and the Air Force Academy are ALL wrong if they allow a young man (or young woman) out of their military obligation to pursue a career in professional sports until they have fulfilled their agreed-upon duties with their respective branch of the service.
 
That’s my opinion and I’m not apologizing for it and I’m certainly not changing it because of a guy on a witch hunt.
 
My dad was in the U.S. Army, fought in Korea, and I have the utmost respect for ANYONE and EVERYONE who has a career in any branch of the military. 
 
In fact, there’s a part of me (and this is tough to say with a 9-month old son who will be 18 years old someday) that thinks our country might be better, stronger and more wise as a whole if every young man completed a 2-year military obligation six months after they turn 18.
 
And, I don’t know what the pay scale is for the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, etc., but whatever it is, I say raise everyone’s salary by 25% since I’m sure they’re not paid what they’re worth (but then again, neither are police officers, firefighters or teachers). 
 
Anyone volunteering for the military (as Caleb Campbell did) is a hero in my book. But, that doesn’t mean you should be allowed to play football just because you can run a hair faster than the next guy and you have a keen sense for the big play in the fourth quarter.
 
Mike – and others if you read the “google” articles – says allowing Caleb Campbell to play in the NFL is nothing more than “marketing” by the U.S. Army.
 
That might be true. But it’s still wrong. In my opinion.
 
I’m still trying to figure out how allowing a young man to escape his obligation and play in the NFL can be a marketing appeal to a 19-year old kid in Detroit – unless he, too, harbors thoughts of playing in the NFL someday. I can see the synergy in that case. But for the rest of the world – the great unwashed who will never see an NFL locker room – shouldn’t the U.S. Army be marketing real life success stories and not fantasyland tales of a kid who thought he might be in Iraq intercepting missiles in August but, instead, might be intercepting Jon Kitna’s passes in training camp?
 
Wouldn’t the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, etc. be better served showing 19-year old kids who graduated from high school, worked hard in the military and established a great career for themselves without the once-in-a-lifetime, I-hit-the-lottery-by-getting-drafted-in-the-NFL story that is Caleb Campbell?
 
What bothers me most about Caleb Campbell isn’t that he’s pursuing his NFL career while others are fighting in Iraq. I’m quite certain – since he was appointed to West Point and had to go through all the hurdles of any other high schooler just to get there – that Caleb Cambell is an outstanding young man and a great representative of our country. 
 
I think what’s most disappointing is that a young man – in this case, Caleb Campbell – who made it all the way to West Point won’t get the opportunity to follow through on his time spent there while someone else who might have been by-passed in the original selection process lost out on an opportunity to showcase his talents at West Point because the Army instead opted for Campbell a few years ago. 
 
Meanwhile, Mike is at home tonight, pleased with his day’s work, no doubt, having contacted our sponsors at WNST in an attempt to lead a crusade against someone who has an opinion that differs from his.
 
In one of his missives to me today via e-mail, Mike questioned why we at WNST allow Bob from Parkville on the air.
 
I’ll tell you why. 
 
Because, thanks to people like Mike – and my late, great father – the United States is a free country and we allow people to say what they want (as long as you follow FCC regulations on the radio, which Bob does).
 
And, I should add, one of the reasons why Mike has the freedom in this country to call my show, e-mail me or contact our sponsors without our permission is because people like Bob in Parkville fought to uphold those rights a long time ago.
 
Mike, in fact, is able to take advantage of that free speech anytime he wants by calling the show himself and voicing his approval or disapproval of anything I say.
 
Late this afternoon, one of our sponsors contacted me after receiving Mike’s e-mail calling for my dismissal and wrote this via text: “I just forwarded you an e-mail. It will make you laugh, if nothing else.” 

Well, it didn’t make me laugh, but it did make me wonder.

How can a guy who fought for the right to give all of us free speech suddenly decide free speech is no longer acceptable?

 

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