I can remember a relatively meaningless game between the Yankees and Royals in what was probably the 1990 season, in which Bo Jackson was playing centerfield. A fly ball, deep into the gap, sends Bo racing towards the wall with the awesome acceleration of a Pro Bowl running back and the peak velocity of a two-time state champion of the decathlon. For him to get there and catch the ball at such speed, just ten feet from the wall, was amazing in itself; but what he did to keep from colliding with the wall at that great speed was absolutely phenomenal: he began to run up the wall, turning as he did so, so that at one point he was actually perfectly parallel to the ground, running across a wall, before heading back down to the earth. This was only one out in an unimportant game, but I still think of Bo Jackson as that guy in centerfield with his hands on his knees, waiting for a fly ball, with that impossible trail of footprints his spikes had cut into the wall behind him silhouetting a truly awesome presence.
Bo's baseball and football statistics are not too impressive. He was not a superstar of either sport, but he was an impact-player, and a man with legendary physical abilities, capable of anything at any time in either sport. He is the only runningback to ever post two 90+ yard touchdown runs in the same season. His homerun leading off the 1990 All-Star Game came at a time when Ronald Reagan was visiting the broadcast booth, so that Reagan actually narrated the event; Bo would be the game's MVP. The video clip of Bo breaking a bat over his knee in frustration after striking out without making any contact whatsoever is eyebrow-raising: who the hell is this guy, and how the hell did he just do that?
Vincent "Bo" Jackson was born November 30th, 1962, the eighth of ten children, in Bessemer, Alabama. As a youth, Bo struggled scholastically and excelled in athletic endeavor, much to the chagrin of his mother, who raised him and her other children without his father, and who nicknamed Vincent "Bo" because he was the wildest of her children, "wild as a boarhog." Bo loved and respected the will of his mother enough to decline a contract offer from the New York Yankees in order to accept a football scholarship at Auburn University, where he would win the Heisman Trophy. After that season, though Bo was the #1 overall NFL draftpick, he opted to sign with baseball's Kansas City Royals--after promising his mother that, no matter what happened, he would one day return to earn a degree at Auburn. Though the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were offering #1 draftpick football-Bo more money, says Bo, "My first love is baseball, and it has always been a dream of mine to be a major-league player." I am fairly certain that there has been no Heisman Trophy winner before or since who has described his football career as "a hobby"; just think of Bo running for an Oakland Raiders record 221 yards in a game, when football was not even his primary focus.
In 1987, Bo got an offer from the Raiders to play for them, but this time Raiders' owner Al Davis structured it in such a way as to allow Bo to play baseball and football simultaneously. In 1989 Bo made baseball's All-Star Team, in 1990 he made football's All-Pro team. Nike's "Bo Knows" ad campaign took off, and Bo was a multi-sport American icon, in a way that no one since Jim Thorpe had been.
But it was in the end of that 1990 football season that Bo was diagnosed with avascular necrosis, stemming from an injury occurring in what would be his final NFL game, a Raiders playoff victory in January 1991. The bones around Bo's left hip joint were dying. It was around this time that Bo's mother passed away.
The legendary Bo Jackson had hip-replacement surgery and, though at the time he was unable to walk, he vowed to return and to homer in his first at-bat, in honor of his mother. After over a year of rehabilitation, a relatively miniscule period considering the scope of the injury, Bo Jackson returned to baseball and homered in his first at-bat. He hung around for a while, and retired in 1995, opening a motorcycle shop outside Chicago. He is partnered with Charles Barkley in ownership of an Alabama restaurant, and he is president of the Sports Medicine Council, a not-for-profit youth outreach center.
And then Bo Jackson returned to Auburn University, with a prosthetic hip and millions of dollars, after the touchdowns and the homeruns, after the Nike ads and the fame, after defying gravity on that wall and raising all estimates of just how strong a man could be by breaking that baseball bat over his knee. He completed his bachelor of science in family and child development, graduating in December 1995.
Update 4/2005 In the wake of Congressional hearings on steroid abuse in baseball, the press and the players are pointing a lot of fingers. Indignant current and former players, claiming innocence and often citing defamation, have been threatening to sue for months, but until today no one's actually done so.
Responding to a recent article featuring an interview with "dietary expert" Ellen Coleman, in which she was purported to claim that "Bo Jackson lost his hip because of anabolic abuse", Jackson immediately launched a massive lawsuit. Defendants include "Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, MediaNews Group Inc., MediaNews Group Interactive, Inc., sports editor Jim Mohr and three other employees of the newspaper." Ms. Coleman herself is tentatively excluded from the lawsuit, as she has released a statement denying ever having said such a thing.
Bo has offered to disclose medical records and past blood tests to anyone interested. His reputation is especially important to him, as, in addition to his myriad successful business ventures, he helped found the HealthSouth Sports Medicine Council and its "Go For It!" Roadshow, which tours the country offering nutritional and health information services to children.
Bo knows unimpeachable integrity.