BREAKING: QB Ahmad Bradshaw has left team & is leaving academy. Bradshaw started 7 games last year. #ArmyFootball https://t.co/SUZ2d8l8Su— Sal Interdonato (@salinterdonato) August 17, 2016
EDIT: This story is based on false reporting. That's super-annoying because it's also gone viral, but what can you do? Fact: Bradshaw is still at the Academy. I'll leave the rest to come out in its time, but I have it on good authority that he's in class as I write this, which means that he has, in fact, taken his Oath of Affirmation.
I issued a lengthy retraction/apology on Twitter, beginning with the following and going six more tweets:
Alright. I've been told by a pretty good friend that I owe Bradshaw an apology, and for that I am heartily sorry.— Dan Head (@Dan_T_Head) August 17, 2016
My original piece follows, and I think it mostly still applies, save that a cadet made what I sincerely hope is a good, well-considered decision for his future.
***With the loss of its best cornerback and last year’s leading rusher, Army Football has already had a tough offseason. Now comes news that the team’s presumed starting quarterback has left as well.
I don’t know what to make of this. Given the timing, it seems likely that Bradshaw refused the Oath of Affirmation, choosing to leave West Point rather than commit to military service, but that is a hard decision to understand. USports profiled Bradshaw just last week, noting that he’d escaped one of South Chicago’s roughest neighborhoods to get to West Point, that against all odds, he had a brilliant future ahead of him.
I want to be on Bradshaw’s side, but after a year at the Prep School and two at the Academy itself, he had to know what he’d signed on for. I mean, yeah, I’ll admit that everyone goes through rough patches at West Point, and Bradshaw had been through some himself, having been declared ineligible for his plebe season for “Academy reasons”. Perhaps “Academy reasons” got in the way of his dream again. It’s also possible that he wasn’t quite as kosher with potentially sharing the starting quarterback’s job as he appeared to be. However, given that fellow QB Chris Carter has yet to take a snap in practice, the starting job was undoubtedly Bradshaw’s to lose. Maybe Bradshaw didn’t feel that he was being treated fairly, that Carter was going to get opportunities that should have been Bradshaw’s despite not practicing, but that’s still a very strange reason to leave West Point altogether. First, because Army’s triple-option virtually demands a multi-quarterback system, and second, because West Point is about a lot more than football or Academy sports.
What’s Bradshaw’s better option? If not Army Football, then what?
I can imagine folks reading this thinking that maybe the Army is just not for Bradshaw, that he doesn’t want to serve and that this is a not unreasonable decision, all things considered. I disagree, and I think most Academy graduates would disagree as well. Five years commitment to active duty is definitely a season of life, and three years in the Inactive Ready Reserves is a potentially serious thing as well. But, as my friend Keith likes to say, “Everyone leaves the Army eventually.” We need to keep a little perspective.
Five years may be a season, but it’s only one, and at the end, you’re not quite thirty. You have an excellent education, no bills, and five years of useful, real-world experience that many civilian employers will covet. Kids at home, do not fool yourselves about this. It is a winning combination. Hell, even a full career of twenty years can be seen as merely a good start to another career. You retire in your early forties with a full resume, a pension, and medical benefits for the rest of your life! This is not nothing, believe me.
I’ll use my friends T.G. and Chris as examples because I’ve written about them before and because we were all in the same Beast Platoon. T.G. hated the Academy pretty much right up until he branched Infantry. He then astonished me by serving twenty years, after which he retired and became the Community Relations Officer for my old school district in Tampa, Florida. He has a beautiful wife, a great kid, and a job he enjoys in a vacation city that actually requires professional use of the English degree he earned at West Point. How many other English majors do you know who’re using their degrees? He could very easily work another twenty years in Tampa, building a career of equal importance to the one he’s already served, and he still won’t even be eligible for his full Social Security benefits when he finishes. That’s not too bad.
By contrast, my friend Chris is a lifer. He’s one of the best combat aviation officers of his generation, having served five combat tours and commanded one of three of the Army’s combat aviation battalions. He’ll pin on his Colonel’s bird sometime in the next month and probably has some five years or more before he retires. We’re forty-three; Chris will probably be out before he’s fifty. He’ll have at least 75% pension, which is a fucking lot when we’re talking about a colonel’s pay, plus he’ll have full medical and an excellent chance of winding up at a place like Sikorsky or at the Pentagon as a Dept. of the Army civilian. Either of those outcomes will likely double his pension (at least), putting him solidly into “full tuition at Harvard” territory for his kids and “vacation home on the lake” for him and his wife. Yes, that’s the real math.
To put it another way, you can make more when you get out of the Army initially, but your friends who stay in eventually catch up, and when pension benefits are added in, the truth is that they do very well long term. Which is not to say that every West Pointer should stay because I think the truth is that there are many ways to serve. Meanwhile, if money is what you care about, you can always go work on Wall Street. I have plenty of classmates who do. What’s true regardless is that the package the Academy is offering is compelling no matter how you play it, and I wish that more kids understood the full import of their options and how those options change over time before they made life changing decisions.
Perspective, unfortunately, is very hard to come by in your teens and early twenties. When kids choose someplace like Appalachian State or Western Kentucky over West Point, I always feel like shaking my head. This is especially true if the deciding factor is an incredibly unlikely shot at professional sports. Leaving West Point after two years is even harder to understand. At that point, you’ve done almost all of the stuff that really sucks at West Point, you now have to start studying in your major and finding the parts of the Army that actually make you happy. This is an amazing experience, and it bothers me that Bradshaw is going to miss it.
If this applies to you, don’t do that. The future is amazing, but you have to go through it to get there.