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Navy Denies Minor Leaguer's Waiver to Delay Service

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The MLB Draft came around at the wrong time for Noah Song.

The minor league pitcher was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in June, about five months before the path was created for military athletes to delay their service in order to pursue professional sports.

Military academy athletes have traditionally been required to serve prior to pursuing outside options. The November order, signed by United States Defense Secretary Mark Esper, said that athletes at military academies can pursue professional sports immediately if they have permission from the defense secretary. Once their playing days are done, they must fulfill their military obligation or repay the costs of their education.

However, the order is being implemented in 2020 and won’t cover Song’s situation, according to the The Capital Gazette. The 22-year-old old, who graduated from the Naval Academy in May, was drafted by the Red Sox in the fourth round of the June MLB Draft. He signed a $100,000 contract and had a 1.06 ERA in 17 minor-league innings for the Lowell Spinners this summer.

Song wanted to continue playing, applying for a waiver that would allow his professional baseball career to progress. Admiral Michael Gilden, the chief of naval operations, denied the waiver, meaning Song will have to complete military service before pursuing a future in baseball.

“Unfortunately, my request was negatively endorsed by the Naval Academy due to the fact this new policy did not apply to me,” Song told The Capital Gazette on Monday. “The Naval Academy did not provide a positive recommendation to the CNO and therefore the request was denied. So that’s the end of that route.”

Song was prepared for the decision, and is scheduled to report to Pensacola in January for flight school. He can apply for another waiver after completing the two-year flight school program.

“I’ve dealt with enough adversity in my life that this isn’t going to completely bring me down,” Song said. “I’m excited to head down to flight school and get started on becoming a flight officer.”

The new process began in May, when President Donald Trump announced he was considering allowing athletes a waiver to play professional sports. In June, Trump gave the Pentagon four months to find a way for military athletes to play professionally immediately after graduating, citing the limited time athletes have to “take advantage of their athletic talents."

“Noah has always expressed an interest in doing both – playing baseball while also serving in the Navy,” said Lacertus Group founder and CEO Sara Kelm, who represented Song in negotiations with the Red Sox. “I know Noah wants to live up to the commitment he made. … You never know what will happen tomorrow. Things can change.”

The government has experimented with similar ideas in the past. Former President Barack Obama’s administration passed a policy that allowed some athletes to defer their military service, which led to Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds being drafted to the NFL in 2016. The defense department rescinded the policy in April 2017.

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