Although some observers would say it was dropped passes that
sank Renaldo (Skeets) Nehemiah's attempt to become a top NFL
wide receiver, Nehemiah maintains that the beginning of the end
of his tenure with the San Francisco 49ers was a vicious hit by
Atlanta Falcons defensive back Kenny Johnson in 1983 that
knocked him unconscious. "It changed the course of my career,"
says Nehemiah, who in 1982 had taken a detour from his
record-smashing track career to try pro football. "I felt that
coach [Bill] Walsh was very protective of me after that. It
stymied my ability to run wild out there and do what I do best
as an athlete."
What Nehemiah did better than anyone else in the late 1970s and
early '80s was run the 110-meter high hurdles. Though he missed
the '80 Moscow Olympics because of the U.S. boycott, he thrice
set the world record in his event, the last time in the summer
of '81, when he ran a 12.93 in Zurich to become the first
hurdler to break the 13-second barrier. The leap to the NFL,
however, proved to be too great: In three seasons with the
Niners, Nehemiah caught just 43 passes. San Francisco released
him in '85.
After a bitter 4 1/2-year court battle with track and field's
U.S. and international governing bodies to regain his amateur
status, Nehemiah returned to the hurdles in 1986. However, the
seven pounds he had gained and the hits he had taken in pro
football had slowed him. His bitter rival, Greg Foster, whom
Nehemiah had beaten 28 times in their 34 meetings before
Nehemiah joined the NFL, now defeated him regularly.
After retiring from track in 1994, Nehemiah was host of The Kid
Club, a children's exercise show on a regional sports cable
network, and he worked as an assistant track and field coach at
George Mason University until last fall. These days Nehemiah,
39, is a partner and financial analyst at Lara, Nehemiah and
Associates Ltd., a financial planning and investment firm in
Last December, Nehemiah, who lives in Potomac, Md., with his
second wife, Gloria, and their two daughters, Ariel, 8, and
Samara, 5, was named to the Track and Field Hall of Fame. Still,
he laments that track and field has faded in popularity in the
U.S. "I did all I could to bring it into the consciousness,"
says Nehemiah. "You couldn't turn on Wide World of Sports
without seeing me running right through the TV screen [in the
opening montage]. It pains me now that it's not that big of a
COLOR PHOTO: RICH CLARKSON [Cover of April 26, 1982 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED featuring Renaldo Nehemiah jumping hurdle while carrying football]
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS [Renaldo Nehemiah]
"I felt Bill Walsh was protective of me. It stymied my ability
to run wild on the football field."