Famed 2-Sport Athlete Shares His Story

Originally published on CUToday.info: https://www.cutoday.info/THE-feature/Famed-2-Sport-Athlete-Shares-His-Story

04/27/2022 12:42 am


Bo knows. But you may not.

One of the greatest athletes of the past half-century shared with credit unions gathered here some recollections on his athletic career, lessons he has learned in life both on and off the field and more.

Bo Jackson, who was not just a two-sport athlete but an All-Star in professional baseball and professional football, offered his thoughts on his career to attendees at NACUSO’s Network conference here.

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A native of Alabama (who didn’t attend the University of Alabama as he had always thought he would for a unique reason, as reported below), Jackson starred in track and field (he won two state decathlon titles), baseball (he threw multiple no-hitters), and football (he played nearly every snap on offense and defense and handled all kicking duties) while in high school. Drafted by the New York Yankees, he opted instead to attend Auburn University, where won the 1985 Heisman Trophy after rushing for 1,786 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Drafted by the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the first overall pick of the 1986 draft, even after he had told the team not to select him, Jackson instead signed with baseball’s Kansas City Royals, for whom he played just 53 games in the minor leagues before making his debut in the big leagues. Eligible again for the NFL draft in 1987, he was selected in the seventh round by the then Los Angeles Raiders.

Jackson, who was speaking at the NACUSO meeting on behalf of Mastercard, would star in both professional sports and became even more famous with the “Bo Knows” advertising campaign by Nike.

In January 1991 Jackson injured his hip during a Raiders play-off game against the Cincinnati Bengals that led him to leave football (but he said that wasn’t the real reason) and was subsequently released by the Royals. He played three partial seasons for Chicago White Sox and California Angels before retiring.

At the NACUSO meeting, Jackson participated in a discussion led by Dennis Dollar, principal with Dollar Associates, before answering audience questions. Here’s a look at what was discussed:

Better at Baseball or Football?

Dollar: Two sport athletes are fairly rare, particularly at the level you did it. Which one did you consider yourself better at?

Jackson: It was the sport that everyone knows. It was picking up my paycheck. It didn’t matter which sport. I say this and I’m not joking–playing professional sports is no different than what you do for a living, except for a couple of more zeroes in the paycheck. Every morning it means getting up, even on mornings you don’t want to.

It does take you away from your family. I didn’t understand that until the last baseball strike in 1994 and I got to spend 6-8 months at home with my kids, who were all in elementary school. One day I heard my two sons whispering because I was on them about picking up and to do this and do that, and I heard them saying, ‘When’s dad going back to work?’ I got to go to school functions. I got a taste of that and when the baseball strike ended I had three teams that wanted my services, two in the National League and one in the American league, and I said ‘No, I’m staying home.’ I have no regrets of my short career.

The world doesn’t know this, but the week I got injured with my hip, Jan. 13, 1990–on Jan. 10 I had told my wife when the football season was over I was done. I was in the fourth year of a five-year contract with the Raiders. I had told my wife I was going to retire after that season, because my oldest was going to first grade. We were in Auburn (Alabama) for spring training and then we would move to Kansas City for baseball season, and then we would move to LA for the Raiders. Just as my oldest was getting comfortable with his friends, we would pack up and leave. My wife is a psychologist and I have a minor in psychology—not that that means anything–and I knew that wasn’t good for my kids. So, I knew it was going to piss off (Raiders owner Al) Davis and probably a lot of fans, too, but I said I am going to retire from football. I didn’t have to. I have no regrets.

I look at my football injury as a speedbump in my road in life. When you come to a speedbump you have to hit your brakes. I think the man upstairs wanted me to slow down and get over that speed bump and get on with business. So, don’t ever say to me, ‘I’m very sorry you got injured.’ I’m perfectly fine. I’ve seen my kids grow up from being young to being responsible adults. They are 35, 33, and 31 and they are all off the payroll.

How To Move Success Off-Field?

Dollar: How did you take the brand you had from the field and translate that to the business world?

Jackson: To be honest, I don’t know how I did it. I knew even when I was in college I was going to be in and out of professional sports by the time I was 32. I didn’t want to be an old man running around trying to play a young man’s sport. My transition was fairly easy. Sports in my life always ranked third or fourth down my list.

My mother was a single mother with five boys and five girls and we lived in a 700-square-foot house. She worked two jobs. The number-one thing for me in life was family. I was taught in college that you carry yourself Sunday through Friday just like you would carry yourself on the football field on Saturday. I don’t consider myself any better than you. Give respect where respect is given. And that’s how I have lived my life.

Dennis Dollar, left, with Bo Jackson at NACUSO Network conference.

As far as going from the sports world to the business world, I wouldn’t say it was a learning curve, but I knew I needed to surround myself with people who were smarter than me, people who cared about me, people who weren’t using me in the ways a lot of young kids are being used today. The people I hired to handle my finances then are the people I still use now. To be honest, I don’t know how many companies I own or have an ownership stake in.

About ‘Bo Bikes Bama’

Dollar: Tell me more about ‘Bo Bikes Bama.’ (Bo Bikes Bama is a Jackson-led philanthropy that raises money for the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund, which provides disaster preparedness and emergency management resources for the state of Alabama, such as tornado shelters and tornado alerts. Jackson launched the effort to raise funds by biking across Alabama following tornadoes that killed many people.)

Jackson: In 11 years we have raised a little under $3 million. We have helped the state construct more than 80 community tornado shelters in which can get from 80 to 250 people. We have erected more than 70 tornado warning systems. The money we raise is only 25% of what it costs the government to build these facilities.

There is still loss of life every year from tornadoes. Trek has put the name of every person who has lost their life in a tornado on my bike, and every year we add names.

Favorite Memories

Dollar: What are your most memorable sports memories?

Jackson: There are two. In baseball, on July 21, 1990, I got kicked out of a game on purpose. Before the game I was going to the batting cage and the umpires were coming in and I knew who was going to be behind the plate. I said, ‘Whatever happens today, just do your job.’ And he looked at me like ‘What the hell is he talking about?’ I took strike one. Swung at a ball I knew was a ball and fouled it off. I took a couple more balls, the count was full. I took the next pitch right down the middle for strike three. I let the umpire have it. I called him with various expletives. He said, ‘You’re out of here.’ I smiled and said ‘thank you.’

I went to the locker room and didn’t shower because I hadn’t broken a sweat, went out and got in my new Corvette and I went to the hospital, because my wife had given birth to my daughter that morning. For me, that’s the story that stands out in baseball.

In football, I think we were playing the Denver Broncos as the LA Raiders, and we had a play designed where the quarterback pitches me the ball and it’s designed to go around the right side and the whole team will pull (to the right). The whole defense sprinted to that side. I pivoted and went the other way.  There was a little cornerback by himself. It was like an 18-wheeler against a VW bug. It was same play we ran the year before and the exact same thing happened. As I’m stepping on him, this time someone pops me on the ear. The ball comes out, but I fall on it. I get the ball and afterwards I’m telling myself to get up. I had a ringing in my ears, but I’m telling myself, ‘Don’t let them see you hurt.’ I can’t hear anything. I unfastened the strap to my helmet and just as my butt touches the bench, someone touches my elbow and says,’ ‘You’re on the other side, mother fucker.’ I was on the wrong bench.

Advice for Struggling Athlete

Audience Question: I have a son in Triple A. He’s been called up a few times. Any advice to overcome the disappointments?

Jackson: The advice I would give your son is the simple fact that his time will come. He has to be patient. Don’t try to rush it. Stay healthy. Do everything he needs to do to not have the White Sox overlook him.

A Son’s Epiphany

Audience Member: What happened next time you saw that umpire who threw you out?

Jackson: The next time I saw him I apologized and I laughed and I told hm why I did that. He said, ‘You didn’t have to cuss me out, you could have just given me a signal and I would have thrown you out.’ I said I had to make it look it authentic.

At the time my youngest son didn’t know Dad was Bo Jackson until he was eight years old. I got thrown out of a game with the White Sox and I threw a bucket of gum and some baseball bats on the field. It was on the news. My son, Nick, saw dad’s face and looked at mom and said, ‘Mom that’s dad.’ My oldest said, ‘Nick, who do you think Bo Jackson is?’ Nick is that typical middle child out in the middle of the lake by himself. Nick said. ‘I don’t know.’ My oldest son said ‘Dad is Bo Jackson!”

The Story With The Boz

Audience: Was the rivalry with (linebacker) Brian Bosworth real?

Jackson: To be honest, Brian is one of the nicest guys on the planet. I have talked to him a ton. He has participated in my charity bike ride. He lives in Austin. His wife is a cycling instructor. One thing that the country doesn’t know is Brian is a marketing genius. All the ‘Boz’ stuff was just a marketing ploy to get the commercials. When he was on his way out of Seattle he had some buddies print up 40,000 t-shirts. He went on local radio news and ripped the city of Seattle a new one. They sold almost 25,000 t shirts that said “Bosworth sucks.” He printed the shirts for $4 or $5 and sold them for $25. He is a very smart guy. That persona was just a persona. 

‘You’re the Reason You’re Getting Your Ass Kicked’

Audience Question: What do you think about the college football portal and how college football is now different?

Jackson:  There is not just the transfer portal, but a lot of things that are different. I think if a kid is not happy where he is, he should have the right to transfer. He’s not under contract with that university. He isn’t getting paid by the university, but he is part of the revenue at that university.

This is the God’s honest truth. I was an Alabama fan until the coach came to recruit me. He said, ‘I don’t think you’ll play until the end of your sophomore season. He said Auburn will never beat Alabama.  When he left, I went out and put my Alabama stuff on the garbage pile. He let the air out of my sails and the rest is history. I made sure to look at him after our first game against Alabama and he was standing next to Coach (Bear) Bryant. I said, ‘You the reason for getting your ass kicked.’

Before I went to Auburn I didn’t even know where it was. I just knew it was in Alabama. I wanted my family to be able to drive and see me play.