Opinion: Bo Jackson Could Be Baseball Marketing Gold

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The Washington Times


Turns out Bo Jackson didn't know.

He knows now.

And Major League Baseball should enlist Bo to tell the next generation of Bo Jacksons what he knows now.

What does Bo know?

That he should not have played NFL football. That he should have just committed himself to Major League Baseball.

That he would never allow his kids to play football.

"The game has gotten so violent, so rough," Bo told USA Today. " 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," he said. "I'd tell them, 'Play baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, just anything but football.' ''

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, pick up the phone right now and call Bo Jackson. Tell him you have a job for him - vice president of something, whatever you would call the man in charge of converting a generation of young athletes to baseball. And pay him what he wants.

You won't find a better symbol of the differences between the two sports than Bo Jackson. After all, he was an All-Star in both. Bo knows football. Bo knows baseball.

Bo, tell the children - baseball over football.

"If I knew back then what I know now, I would have never played football," Bo, 54, said. "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."

Preach, Bo.

Manfred has spoken about stepping up the commitment to youth baseball, but the battle in the trenches is to convince the best young athletes who have grown up with football as the national obsession than baseball is a better option - a healthier option, a wealthier option.

But so far, it appears that baseball has been reluctant to use the message about damaged and destroyed football players, many of whom have sued the NFL, literally as a selling point for baseball. Maybe it's in poor taste. Or maybe it's a public service.

Who would youngsters listen to? A 58-year-old man in a suit? Former major league players, some of whom may have had illustrious careers, but never sold even pencils on Madison Avenue?

Or Bo Jackson, who was like a comet that crashed on the American sports scene in the 1980s, and was one of the first whose marketing power outweighed his accomplishments.

Bo won the 1985 Heisman Trophy award as the best player in college football, and is considered one of the greatest players in college football history. But he also played baseball at Auburn, and the scouting reports projected that, with experience, Bo could be one of the all-time baseball greats.

He was the first pick in the 1986 draft by Tampa Bay, but refused to sign because of a dispute with the team, which he believed sabotaged his chances of playing baseball his senior year at Auburn due to an unapproved visit to their football facility while he was still in college. Instead, Bo signed with the Kansas City Royals, who drafted him in the fourth round of the 1986 draft. Bo was drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders in the seventh round of the 1987 draft, and owner Al Davis said he would permit Bo to play both baseball and football.

There are many iconic moments of Jackson in both arenas - running up the outfield wall for a catch in a game against the Baltimore Orioles in 1990, breaking a bat over his knee after striking out, his run over another Madison Avenue star, linebacker Brian Bosworth, on a 1987 Monday Night Football game against the Seattle Seahawks, among them.

But it was the "Bo Knows" Nike advertising campaign that made Bo a star beyond the athletic field, one of the most successful and well-known marketing promotions we've ever seen.

Bo's football career would come to an end when he suffered a devastating hip injury in 1991, and, though he would continue to play baseball until 1994, he was never the same athlete. When it was all over, Bo Jackson had, over four partial NFL seasons, rushed for 2,782 yards on 515 carries, a 5.4 yard-per-carry average and 16 touchdowns, and over eight major league seasons with the Royals, Chicago White Sox and California Angels, batted .250 with 141 home runs and 415 RBI. He was both an NFL Pro Bowler and a Major League Baseball All Star, the Most Valuable Player of the 1989 game.

The numbers, though, don't do Bo justice. He was as physically imposing a player as anyone of his era, and a marketing Hall of Famer, and it is that part of Bo that will get the attention of young athletes. Yes, he scored touchdowns. Yes, he hit home runs.

But Bo sold shoes, the currency of young athletes, and Bo says put away the football shoes. Try on the baseball spikes.

That's a marketing campaign for baseball.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast "Cigars & Curveballs" Wednesdays available on iTunes and Google Play.

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January 23, 2017


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