Should military athletes be treated differently?

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Should military athletes be treated differently?

August 3, 2016 -

Should military athletes who are good enough to go pro have to fulfill their military service time first? After all, they signed on to attend a military academy with the full knowledge that it would mean a five-year commitment as an active-duty officer upon graduation. However, the Department of Defense recently changed their policy to allow such athletes to enjoy greater flexibility in how they repay that debt.

Previously, such officers were allowed to petition for early release after two years of active duty, serving the final three years as part of the Selective Reserve. The hope was that this leniency would “provide the DoD with significant favorable media exposure likely to enhance national recruiting or public affairs.” For much the same reason, these athletes can now apply to serve in the Selective Reserve from graduation. And while each request is taken on a case-by-case basis, the decision has already made a difference for Keenan Reynolds, the former record-setting Navy QB who is now the Baltimore Ravens newest wide receiver.

Drafted in the sixth round this past April, Reynolds is currently in training camp competing for a spot on the final roster. And while he is grateful for the opportunity to continue his football career and for the support he’s received from a number of Baltimore-area veterans, he knows there are some who do not think highly of the special treatment he and other athletes have received. As Reynolds recently told reporters after practice, “I understand how those who have served their commitment feel, and I respect their opinion . . . I know not everyone is going to feel the same way.”

For most, the question comes down to how Reynolds and those like him can best serve their country. Some believe that the greatest value would come from the various academies’ athletes serving in uniform next to their fellow officers. Others agree with the DoD in seeing the value of having academy officers promoting the military from the football field and giving those in active duty a familiar face to root for on Sundays.

Most, however, seem relatively ambivalent on the subject. As one reservist told The Baltimore Sun‘s Don Markus, “If the military wants to stand firm, I’m cool with that. If they want to let them go early to self-promote the branch, that’s OK. I guess I’m more so leaning that if the government is paying for your degree, you need to go serve. But I’m not going to throw a fit if they let them play some football.”

Whatever one’s opinion on the DoD’s decision to make special accommodations for a select few athletes, the fact that it generated such dialogue reveals an interesting dynamic in how we view others. Whether Reynolds serves his time in active duty or the Select Reserves will not change the requirements for other officers. Their obligations are unaffected by how he fulfills his. Yet many have strong opinions about a decision that has no direct bearing on their lives. Why is that?

There’s something in our nature that tends to get a bit riled up when we believe that we’re being treated unfairly—or simply that someone else is being treated better. Perhaps that’s why I, like many others I would imagine, have often struggled with Jesus’ parable in Matthew 20 regarding the laborers in the vineyard. In it, Jesus tells the story of the master of a house who went out throughout the day and hired workers to labor in his vineyard. When the day came to an end, he paid them all the same wage even though some had worked all day and others only an hour. As we might expect, those who had worked longest felt it was unfair that they were paid the same as the last laborers, even though they received their agreed upon wage (Matthew 20:1–16).

While it would be easy to focus on the details of the parable and the perceived injustice to those who worked all day, it’s important to understand the context of that passage and the reason the story was told in the first place. Jesus shared that parable with his followers shortly after Peter, likely speaking on behalf of the others, insinuated to Christ that their sacrifice should net them a better place in God’s kingdom.

His assumption was only logical and one that we often make, even if subconsciously. After all, if we do serve a just God then we should expect to be treated fairly. But such assumptions misunderstand the nature of God’s justice. The truth of the matter is that God would only be acting unjustly if he didn’t reward those who served him in the manner he promised, which for us is an eternity in his presence. If, like the master of the house, he chooses to give the same reward to those whom we perceive not to have worked as hard for the kingdom, that is not a matter of injustice but rather of mercy and grace.

Rather than getting upset that others have also been blessed by God, we should rejoice at that fact. Can you imagine what kind of impact we could make on our culture if that was the perspective of God’s people towards others? If our first response when we see them receive a blessing from our heavenly Father was to rejoice with them rather than to compare it with our own?

Such behavior would make a lasting impression on people simply because it’s not something that comes naturally to us. It requires a sense of contentment that can only be found in the knowledge that God has dealt with us more than justly and blessed us beyond what we deserve, no matter how he might deal with others. Do you have that contentment today?

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