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President Donald Trump touts pro sports option at Army-Navy game

PHILADELPHIA -- President Donald Trump used his appearance at the annual Army-Navy football game to pitch to the players an administration policy change that clears the way for athletes at the nation's military academies to play professional sports after they graduate and delay their active-duty service.

To cheers in each locker room before the 120th playing of the game, he said he was giving those athletes with pro potential the chance "to make a fortune, and after you're all finished with your professional career, you'll go and you'll serve and everybody's thrilled.''

Turning to Army's coach, Jeff Monken, the president joked, "It probably gives the coach no reason to ever lose another game.''

A memo signed in November by Defense Secretary Mark Esper spelled out the new guidelines. It said the athletes must get approval from the Pentagon chief, and it requires them to eventually fulfill their military obligation or repay the costs of their education. The Obama administration put a policy in place allowing some athletes to turn pro and defer their military service.

In the Navy locker room, he congratulated the favored Midshipmen on "a hell of a season,'' but added, "You know, it's only a great season, you know it has to happen today, otherwise you wouldn't call it a great season. So you better go out there and play hard.''

With impeachment looming in Washington, Trump made the day trip to Philadelphia for the second year in a row for the storied game. Trump, who also went in 2016 as president-elect, is the 10th commander in chief to attend the contest.

In 2016, Army snapped Navy's 14-game winning streak and has won three years in a row. But the Midshipmen routed Army's Black Knights 31-7 on Saturday. They had entered the game as a significant favorite.

Trump was accompanied by Esper and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley. The president was on the field for the coin toss. The crowd cheered as Trump walked off the field after the national anthem. He put on a red Keep America Great hat.

Trump emerged during the first half and sat on the Army side of the field, near the 50-yard line. There were sporadic shouts of "Trump!'' and "Let's go Trump!'' He crossed the field to the Navy side for the second half and left in the third quarter to return to Washington for an evening fundraiser at his hotel.

Among the other presidents to have attended the Army-Navy game are Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Gerald Ford and John F. Kennedy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.