For any business to succeed long term it must be principled and disciplined, while simultaneously nimble enough to react to market opportunities and conditions. This applies to the military and its academies as much as it does Fortune 500 companies, regardless of the products or services offered.
Recently, this has brought with it a false argument of sorts, one that questions whether special treatment should be shown military personnel with a specific skill set, in this case athletic prowess. More narrowly, the debate centers around soon-to-be Naval Academy graduate Joe Cardona, a long snapper selected in the fifth round of this year’s NFL draft by the New England Patriots.
Clearly compromising his ability to play, Cardona has an obligation to serve five years as an active-duty Naval officer upon graduation. However, he can apply for early release from active duty “for the purpose of pursuing a professional sports activity with potential recruiting or public affairs benefits.” But, in order to do so, Cardona must first complete two years of active duty and then join the reserves.
His potential recruiting and public affairs benefits are notable and come at a time when the military, the NFL and certainly the Patriots would welcome the public relations lift Cardona provides.
Controversy over the military’s sports marketing efforts flared again this week when it was disclosed that the Department of Defense allocated more than $5 million to sponsorship deals with numerous NFL teams over the last several years. Critics openly wonder about the ROI and ROO associated with such deals as these marketing arrangements have become increasingly difficult to defend. Tangible results (i.e. demonstrable increases in recruits/enlistees) appear difficult to quantify.
Enter Cardona and the remarkable opportunity he affords. His discipline, sense of selflessness as a Midshipman and, of course, leadership skills would be welcomed league-wide, especially in the locker room and on the field, regardless of the number of snaps he takes.
He’s an immediate messenger for brands in need of a boost. His story, one that would be widely covered in every NFL city he visits, would yield important recruiting and public affairs benefits. Human interest stories bring with them advertising equivalencies and marketing benefits that would most certainly outpace his currently mandated contribution to the Navy.
From a business perspective, should an employee be unable to transfer to the marketing department if his skills are deemed more useful there than in another area of the organization? Should that employee be relegated to IT simply because of his engineering degree? Or should he be deployed where his contributions provide the greatest opportunity to build shareholder value?
In Cardona’s case, will the Navy be too rigid to leverage an opportunity for its greater collective goal, a goal framed by what is in the best interests of the military and the nation?
Will it be unable to clearly articulate the recruiting benefits and public interface gained from parlaying Cardona’s unique skill set, and therefore forfeit a rare opportunity to take advantage of an obvious market opportunity?
To what extent will the Navy feel forced to play defense and allow itself to be viewed as providing Cardona special treatment rather than go on the offensive and deftly communicate an extraordinary (business) opportunity?
Taxpayers and football fans look forward to finding out.