How much do Captains matter?

When news leaked that Navy had retracted the leadership roles of linebacker Brye French and slotback Bo Snelson it could easily have passed by as nothing more than an afterthought. Indeed, at any one of the big time football powerhouses which often work as nothing more than a conveyer belt for NFL level talent it would probably have been swept under the carpet.

Things at Navy however are a done a little differently.

The role of the captain has been vastly diminished in American sports. With coaches, position coaches, assistant position coaches, and all the rest, players are micromanaged to play on rails. In the NFL captains generally do little more than attend the coin toss posture a little then return to their teams. Only in rare cases do you get captains that are true leaders, veterans who have been around the game and can inspire with their encouragement and actions.

Elsewhere in the world captaincy is still a big deal. The England soccer captain is one of the most revered roles in the country, and how the team plays in any given tournament is often seen as a reflection of the captains performance as much as the coaches. International cricket teams still rely on captains to help pick the team and make tactical adjustments on the fly, often autonomously of the coaching staff.

This all leads us to the captaincy situation at Navy. Though little is known about the misadventures of Snelson and French it has cast a shadow over the captaincy at one of the few places in the country where the role still matters. The Navy football team is seen (rightly or wrongly) as a direct extension of the Academy in everything that they do. To many, both insiders and naysayers, this revoking of the captaincy is a mark of bigger problems with who is recruited to the team and prioritizing football over service.

The correct way to look at this situation is in the way that Ken Niumatalolo and his staff has been open and forthright from the start. The Midshipmen could have easily swept this under the carpet and allowed the players in question to retain their positions. Instead the players and coach faced media day knowing full well what the questions would be about and dealt with the whole situation in a way befitting any Navy player or servicemen.

At Navy captains do still matter. The Mids are going to go with a strategy of picking captains for individual games this fall, while the seniors continue to provide the type of leadership expected of upperclassmen. This will give more players the chance to be a captain than ever before, which is fitting for a school where the purpose is to graduate captains of life.

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