Bo Jackson, the world’s greatest living athlete, and the only man to be an All-Star in baseball and a Pro Bowler in football, now has a confession to make.
“If I knew back then what I know now,’’ Jackson told Bob Nightengale of USA Today, “I would have never played football. Never. I wish I had known about all of those head injuries, but no one knew that. And the people that did know that, they wouldn’t tell anybody.
“The game has gotten so violent, so rough. We’re so much more educated on this CTE stuff [chronic traumatic encephalopathy], there’s no way I would ever allow my kids to play football today. Even though I love the sport, I’d smack them in the mouth if they said they wanted to play football. I’d tell them, ‘Play baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, just anything but football.’ ’’
That would have been a jarring blow for an entire industry if that had come to pass, because Jackson was one of the brightest stars in the game, a Heisman winner at Auburn and a Pro Bowl running back, who was on track for a Hall of Fame career before it was cut short by a hip injury. But his ability to play both football and baseball made him unique, and the marketing wizards at Nike made him famous for his ability to master any sport and seemingly any activity he tried.
Jackson said he was about to retire before the 1990 hip injury that ended his career, preferring to focus on his baseball career with the Kansas City Royals. And that even though football took a tremendous toll on him (he’d eventually need hip replacement surgery), he’s found a degree of peace with it.
“You know what,’’ Jackson said, “I still wouldn’t change a thing. The man upstairs had a plan of the way of working things out, and they did. I have no regrets.’’
He’s far from the first former player to steer his kids away from the game. But he was also one of the game’s brightest stars, and hearing him disavow the sport he was so good at remains as jarring as the hits he put on Brian Bosworth and so many others.