The New England Patriots have three players on their reserve/military list who are completing their active duty in the Navy, and they’ve had to work extra hard to break a stereotype that initially altered their image.
“I’d say it’s a double-edged sword, but once you show up, everyone thinks you’re a professional athlete and you’ve got a chip on your shoulder,” said running back Eric Kettani, who is a repair division officer of engineering on the USS Klakring (FFG-42) in Jacksonville. “But once guys get to know you and your hard work ethic, and you’re there with them for late hours, you’re just a normal guy. I think it helps out in a respect because they know you’re hard at work and have some things going after the Navy career. I like it. My guys like it as well.”
Kettani and wide receiver Tyree Barnes will finish their 24 months of active duty in two weeks, and they’ll be able to report to the Patriots at the conclusion of the lockout. Wide receiver Shun White, who is currently on deployment off the coast of Libya, will complete his active duty around the new year. Kettani, Barnes and White will then spend six years as select reserves, which means it’s highly unlikely they’d be called back for active duty.
Barnes, who was promoted to lieutenant junior grade last Thursday, is an electronics warfare officer and deals with counter-missile activity on the USS Gonzalez (DDG-66), which is stationed in Virginia. He said he hears about his status as a professional athlete on a daily basis.
“It is pretty rough,” Barnes said. “A lot of people, the very first thing they think of you is you’re not there to get the job done, that you’re not really about the Navy, you’re more about just being ready to go play football. That’s the stereotype you’ve got to shake, and that’s all on the attitude you have once you get to the ship. I didn’t even like talking about it. People were always asking, and I’d give them one-word answers like, ‘Yeah, once I get there, I’ve got to get there.’
“The No. 1 question I always get asked is, ‘Are you going to give me tickets?’ I’m like, I haven’t even touched the field, don’t know if I’ll ever touch the field, don’t know if I’ll ever even have tickets to go to the game, don’t know if I’ll have tickets to get my parents to a game. I have to make the team. I have to make a practice. I have to make something first. That’s what people don’t get. They hear that Patriots thing and just automatically jump to conclusions, don’t know what I’ll have to go through to ever even touch the field to get under the lights.
“I kind of got to the point where I didn’t want to keep explaining all the time, so now I tell them, ‘One day, hopefully, just keep your fingers crossed.’”
With the criticism, though, comes the pride. Once Kettani and Barnes displayed they were in the Navy for the right reasons, they were able to break through that stereotype. And since, they’ve accumulated more supporters who will drive their motivation to play in the NFL.
“If one day I get to the point where I want to be, if I ever do get the opportunity to play, then I know a lot, a lot of people will have that personal pride,” Barnes said. “That’s another thing that I kind of push and strive for because all of those people on my ship, on the SS Gonzalez DDG-66, will be so proud of me with my family and friends. That’s something I definitely strive for.”