There’s never been an athlete quite like Bo Jackson. While other superstars like Deion Sanders made their names in football and baseball, they didn’t do so with the fanfare and gravitas of Jackson. However, if you ask the retired NFL and MLB player what his most significant accomplishment was, it involves academics, not sports. That’s where Jackson fulfilled a promise to the most important person in his life: his mother.
Bo Jackson’s incredible sports career
Bo Jackson blurred the line between athletes, celebrities, and brands throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s. A superstar athlete in both football and baseball, Jackson chose both while many others in his shoes had to pick one or the other. There was something different about Jackson, however. The Kansas City Royals selected Jackson in the fourth round of the 1986 draft after a Heisman-winning career at Auburn. As such, he had more leverage than the average athlete.
The Orlando Sentinel notes that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Jackson first overall despite his demands that they don’t. The issue stemmed from the team’s visit to Auburn, which they claimed was NCAA sanctioned. It caused him to miss the second half of the season with a violation. Thinking he was bluffing, the Buccaneers drafted him anyway. Jackson opted to play for the Kansas City Royals instead.
Jackson was a man of his word. After declining to sign with the Buccaneers, he was drafted 183rd by the Los Angeles Raiders after concerns that his MLB career would hurt his football career. It didn’t. Jackson was a superstar in both sports, garnering All-Star appearances, MVP buzz, and plenty of endorsement deals.
Ironically, Jackson’s football career might be what he’s better known for. But it only lasted four seasons when a hip injury forced his early retirement in 1990. He played with the California Angels in 1994 before the injury woes caught up to him in baseball, too.
Bo Jackson goes (back) to college
Jackson was just six credits short of his graduation when he left the school for a professional sports career. However, after wrapping up his stint as a professional athlete, he returned to the school to complete his degree. Yes, this would help him with professional life outside of football, but it also had a special meaning.
Jackson was one of 10 children in a poor Alabama family. Despite all his accolades in sports, Jackson’s academic career was what would have served his mother proud. Jackson’s mother died as his professional career was winding down. According to a 1995 New York Times report, his final promise to her was that he’d finish his college career.
“It’s the last piece of the puzzle, to where I feel like I’m a complete person,” he told the paper.
Jackson was the first of his siblings to graduate with a four-year degree. He received his bachelor’s in family and child development. He completed the classes through standard academic procedures and correspondence work following his retirement from Major League Baseball. His wife, Linda, supported him as he earned the degree, a fantastic way to cap off a great career.
There’s never been another Bo Jackson
Two-sport athletes are not the pull they once were. Yes, Tim Tebow technically tested the waters. Still, he never made it to the majors and, despite recently re-entering the NFL as a tight end, his first stint was little more than a single season of dominance followed by several more of relative obscurity. This is what makes Bo Jackson different.
He had the talent of a Sanders and the mental drive of a renowned academic. While Jackson’s career was relatively short, his journey is still a favorite among sports fans. As such, it’s easy to see why his name still rings a bell 25 years after his final professional game.