Bo Jackson wasn’t the first multi-sport athlete, but he was one of the best. His feats in both Major League Baseball and the National Football League are well-known, and the outfielder/running back became the first athlete named to two sports’ All-Star games, a testament to his athletic prowess.
Easily one of the best all-around professional athletes, Jackson became a major marketing star in both baseball and football. His versatility led Nike to a new level, releasing the popular “Bo Knows…” advertising campaign, which cashed in on his athleticism in two (and more) sports.
After winning the Heisman Trophy and TSN College Football Player of the Year in 1985, Jackson opted to sign with the Kansas City Royals instead of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He joined the Royals after just 53 games in the minors and, while showing speed and power, he struck out frequently and displayed questionable defense.
After showing improvement in 1987 with 22 HR despite 158 strikeouts, Bo announced his plan to play football in the off-season with the Raiders as “a hobby,” a move initially not appreciated by Kansas City players or fans. In 1988 Jackson slammed 25 homers and stole 27 bases but still struck out 146 times. However, in 1989 he finally raised his batting average, to .256, hit 32 HR with 105 RBI, and used his speed and strong arm to become one of the most exciting left fielders in baseball. That same year, Jackson was named to the American League All-Star team, and proceeded to win the MVP Award of the game, after bashing a titanic home run off the Giants’ Rick Reuschel. When the baseball season ended, Jackson returned to the Raiders in full force, and was named to the Pro Bowl just five months after playing the Major League Baseball All-Star game.
Unfortunately, Jackson would never make it to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. In January 1991, he injured his hip in an NFL playoff game, requiring the two-sport athlete to undergo surgery. It was that injury that led the talented athlete to end his football career, and ultimately his baseball career.
Attempting to make a return to baseball in 1991, Jackson was waived by the Royals in spring training and picked up by the Chicago White Sox. But by now, the hip injury had worsened to a condition called avascular necrosis, when the hip –both the cartilage and the bone– begins to deteriorate. It had eroded so much that Jackson batted only .225 over 23 games for the Sox. The next year, he underwent hip replacement surgery and was forced to miss the entire 1992 baseball season. With a new hip in place, it was unlikely that Jackson would ever play professional sports again.
But in a remarkable display of his athletic fortitude, Jackson made the White Sox roster the following season, and in his first at-bat back in the majors, slugged a pinch-hit home run on April 9, 1993, off the Yankees’ Neal Heaton. That homer would be one of the few highlights left for Jackson. Following the ’93 campaign, in which he batted .232 over 85 games, the White Sox released him. Jackson signed on with the California Angels, but it became clear that his hip transplant would not allow him to regain the speed that once made him unstoppable. Despite his desire to play on, Jackson had to succumb to the degenerative hip problem, and retired midway through the 1994 season.