Over the last year with the distressing series of problems continuing to come out of the United States Naval Academy on race-based admissions standards, special considerations for D1 enabling athlete-students, and an honor system under stress – many people have asked why aren’t the alumni speaking up?
Well, they are. Last week we had one, this week another.
Today’s guest post is by USNA alumnus, Francisco Alsina (’97).
Recently, the Naval Academy was in the news because of one of its football players. Midshipman Curry is being retained after a positive drug test result for marijuana. Why? Is it because he is a star athlete? According to Chet Gladchuk, director for the Naval Academy Athletic Association, and Ken Niumatalolo, the head coach for the football team, it’s not. Both were rather emphatic in a February 13th newspaper article from The Capital, Annapolis, Maryland’s newspaper, that there is no double standard. I disagree. As an alumni (with a sibling that also attended and graduated) and former company officer, and current sponsor of midshipmen, I am convinced a double standard exists for some.
In the article, mention was made about the medals earned and honorable deeds done by other football players once they hit the fleet. I agree that there are many phenomenal student-athletes at the academy. They do well there and beyond in the fleet. But, to be terse and honest; big deal. It is our job to excel; as midshipmen and Naval officers we are paid and expected to do that. Mention made of medals earned by football players out in the fleet merely obfuscates the current issue. It is a reactive and insidious attempt to deflect criticism. I recognize that Mr. Niumatalolo has never served in the military, but after coaching at Navy for 13 years, I would have expected more of him than this cheap and ineffective tactic. I still remember one of the laws of the Navy from my plebe year: “On the strength of one link in the cable, dependeth the might of the chain, who knows when thou may’st be tested? So live that thou bearest the strain!” The ‘metal’ used to make some of the links (midshipmen) is of inferior quality to begin with, and this is unacceptable. Curry’s front page article for his misdeeds is disappointing, yet increasingly unsurprising, to midshipmen and alumni alike. He didn’t pick up the bad habits at the academy; it must have been before.
Our country, Navy, and those led by academy graduates deserve better than the worst we allow to graduate. Midshipman Curry is pretty bad if we are to believe accounts that he already had not one, not two, but three honor violations before testing positive for marijuana, and has been awarded over three hundred demerits. This poor conduct begs the question, “How many honor offenses or conduct infractions does it take to get kicked out?” But, he’s only a third class midshipman, with two and a half years left. I’m confident he will not graduate if he does not see the error of his ways. If I were him, I would leave after this semester, before he incurs any financial obligation for the education he received (whether it sank in or not). Then, he can smoke all the marijuana-laced cigars he wants, knowingly or unknowingly.
Part of the mission of the Naval Academy is to ‘develop midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically’ but some of the demands varsity and junior varsity sports are putting on midshipmen and the institution is ultimately harming our mission. There are double standards at the academy, contrary to Mr. Gladchuk’s statement in the Capital.
The athletic association says they recruit academically sound recruits, yet only 19 football players are coming to the academy while 35 to 40 are reporting to the Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS) this fall. NAPS was originally created to academically prepare enlisted sailors and Marines for the academy. Now, amongst other things, it has become a de facto red shirt year for academically unprepared athletes.
Some football players are allowed to be out of height and weight standards for much of their time at the academy in order to be competitive on the field. The academy may say that these athletes are expected to meet standards before graduation; the same standards can be used to separate other midshipman when they fail to meet them during their tenure, well before their planned graduation.
During some meals, plebe (first year) athletes sit apart from their unit and with their team, where they can relax without being subject to the same rules as non-athlete plebes. Further, varsity athletes, as a group, often sit apart from their company during many meals. In the desire build a strong athletic team, plebes fraternize with upperclass outside of sports events or practice, to the detriment of good order and discipline, bedrock principles of military life.
As a company officer, I was pressured by the chain of command to allow academically unsatisfactory midshipmen to participate in most if not all varsity athletic events when a similar request would never have been made, much less allowed, for nonathletic events. A double standard was created and the entire Brigade knew it. NCAA guidelines were cited by our chain of command, permitting athletic participation for college students so long at their cumulative GPA was above a 2.0. Yet, when athletes we reluctantly approved for sports participation found themselves at academic boards for poor grades, the chain of command came down on company officers for not holding athletes back, citing academy policy allowing us to deny sports participation for athletes with a semester academic GPA below a 2.15. The same chain of command that was silent or outwardly hostile to company officers if we wanted to hold back an athlete from a sporting event due to grades was just as hostile and unsupportive to company officers when athletes were academically unsatisfactory at the end of the semester.
Few know that some candidates applying to the academy are labeled ‘Blue Chip Recruits’. These candidates are recruited for sports at the academy and given special consideration in the admissions process. Raw data I reviewed while on staff at the academy indicated that blue chip recruits don’t remain in the Navy as long as non blue chip athletes after graduation . failing part of the academy’s mission by not being ‘..dedicated to a career of naval service..’ I am not surprised, given that they were brought into the Navy in large part for being pretty good at playing a sport. To be fair, most recruited athletes are not given special consideration in the admissions process. Now, I can expect the athletic association to respond with their own statistics, leading with the fact that varsity athletes have a higher academic GPA, and that was true when I was on staff. However, the difference is so negligible as to be statistically insignificant, and does not account for the different types of majors chosen by midshipmen; some are more academically rigorous than others.
Many midshipman (athletes or not) resent these double standards. Other examples exist, but I’ve made my point.
Knowledge of Midshipman Curry’s positive drug test and its aftermath has hit the fleet. What do Sailors and Marines think of academy graduates now? Naval Academy graduates are supposed to be the best the nation has to offer; but if a recent letter to the Navy Times from a First Class Petty Officer captures the thoughts of our sailors, the perception is the opposite of what it should be. Navy athletics and the Naval Academy is not in a crisis; yet. But, unless current policies change, we can expect more midshipmen of Curry’s caliber to bring dishonor upon the academy. At the end of the day, I hope that those led by academy graduates, upon learning their division officer was a star athlete, will not have cause to wonder if they have an officer worthy of the responsibility entrusted to them.
If his poor conduct and honor violations are not cause to separate Midshipman Curry from the Academy, what is so special about him that allows him to stay? To hear from Mr. Gladchuk and Mr. Niumatalolo, it’s not because he’s a star athlete, but I’m sure that didn’t hurt. And I don’t buy the excuse that Midshipman Curry’s ignorance of exactly what he was smoking is why he is staying in. A former senior enlisted advisor has personally told me the very same excuse didn’t save another midshipman not too long ago from being separated for a positive drug test. So, why is Midshipman Curry allowed to stay? I challenge the Naval Academy to provide some believable response, not falling for the ‘I didn’t know’ defense Curry used.
Francisco Alsina graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1997. He has participated in Operations Northern and Southern Watch, and Iraqi Freedom, deploying four times from 2001 to 2007. Currently, he is an activated reservists awaiting deployment to Pakistan.