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Navy Secretary Says Football Star-Ensign Can Play in NFL

August 20, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Navy Secretary John F. Lehman, in an unusual departure from tradition, on Wednesday authorized star running back and Ensign Napoleon McCallum to play pro football with the Los Angeles Raiders on weekends.

The 23-year-old McCallum, an all-American who set 26 school records at the U.S. Naval Academy, was selected by the Raiders in the fourth round of the National Football League draft last April even though he faced a minimum five- year military commitment.

A Navy statement released at the Pentagon said Lehman accepted a recommendation from the chief of naval operations and the commandant of the Marine Corps ″to allow Ensign Napoleon McCallum to participate in professional football games on a not-to-interfere basis with his military duties.″

″The permission to participate is given to Ensign McCallum with the understanding that his responsibilities as a commissioned naval officer are primary and his participation will not be allowed to conflict with assigned shipboard duties.″

The Navy, in its statement, sought to play down the decision by stressing it was consistent with the service’s general policy on civilian employment. The service allows its personnel to hold second jobs ″as long as there is no conflict with military duties,″ it said.

Nonetheless, the decision marks a major departure from naval traditions regarding professional athletics. Such previous Navy football standouts as Roger Staubach and Phil McConkey had to complete five years on active duty before joining the pro football ranks.

It was not immediately clear Wednesday whether the Raiders would be willing to use McCallum during the pro season since he will be available only on weekends and cannot attend regular practice sessions.

″We’re excited for Napoleon McCallum,″ said Al LoCasale, the Raiders’ executive assistant, but other club officials said further clarification would be needed about when McCallum would be available, not only for this season but for the remainder of his service commitment.

McCallum is a supply officer aboard the amphibious helicopter carrier Peleliu, which is now assigned to Long Beach, Calif., outside Los Angeles for an overhaul.

″Right now, his working hours are 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. He also has duty, 24 hours on the ship every fifth day, plus whatever else comes up.″ said Commander David Dillon, Director of the Navy Information Office, West.

″His availability to go to practice or play games is at the discretion of the commanding officer, Captain K.R. Barry.″

Barry was on another ship and would not be available until late Wednesday.

The Navy agreed that the decision regarding McCallum would apply equally to Marine 1st Lt. Eddie Meyers, another Naval Academy graduate who was drafted as a halfback by the Atlanta Falcons, and potentially, David Robinson, the senior basketball standout at the academy.

A Marine Corps source noted, however, that Meyers is assigned to Camp Pendleton, Calif., ″meaning in reality it might be kind of impractical for him to play in Atlanta.″

A Navy source also noted that permission to play on weekends would probably be worthless to a pro basketball player.

Lehman’s decision was described by one source who requested anonymity as something of a compromise. There is a faction within the service that foresees potential recruiting benefits for the Navy if McCallum is used on the weekends by the Raiders, the source said.

There is another faction that stresses nothing should interfere with the military obligation incurred by individuals who are educated at taxpayer expense at military academies, the source added.

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