In a precedent-setting move, hurdler Renaldo Nehemiah was given permission today to compete as an amateur in track and field events in the United States despite being a professional football player. He is a wide receiver with the San Francisco 49ers.
The decision by the U.S. Olympic Committee was announced by its president, William Simon. It marks the first time a professional in another sport--other than a college athlete--has been allowed to compete as an amateur in track and field.
Nehemiah, who competed at the University of Maryland, is still barred from international competition because the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) does not permit participation by any athlete who is a professional in another sport. That includes events in the United States in which non-Americans are entered.
"If even one overseas competitor were to run in an event in America, Nehemiah would not be able to participate," Simon said.
Nehemiah was immediately extended an invitation to participate in the Michelob Invitational track meet in San Diego on Feb. 18. "It isn't official yet, but it looks good, it appears that he will compete." said Jerry Epstein, a spokesman for the meet.
Col. F. Don Miller, executive director of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said that except for college athletes, Nehemiah was the first to be recognized as an amateur in track and field and a professional in another sport. A college athlete may compete in one sport as a professional while retaining eligibility in another.
One example is John Elway, Stanford's all-America quarterback, who also plays baseball in the New York Yankees chain.
Nehemiah, 23, signed a multiyear contract in April to play for the 49ers. Later he applied to compete as an amateur in track, and The Athletics Congress, which governs track and field in the United States, declared him eligible for local meets.
The IAAF said TAC had made an improper ruling, and declared Nehemiah ineligible to compete anywhere. A U.S. District Court in Baltimore referred the case to the USOC, which heard it this week.
Simon said the USOC's decision had not yet been passed to the IAAF. He doubted the IAAF would allow Nehemiah to run in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
"But we should push for it," Simon said. "Let's try to bring our eligibility rules into the 20th Century."
Nehemiah said he planned to "re-establish myself as the best hurdler in the world. Maybe that will give us some political pull, and we'll reopen the subject" of eligibility for international amateur events.
The USOC's unusual ruling on Nehemiah's status appeared to mean he could run in tryouts for the Olympic team--purely domestic events--but could not compete in the Games.