Bo Jackson has always had a way to making people notice him. Whether it was hitting towering home runs for the Kansas City Royals or running down the sidelines punctuating an electrifying run as a Heisman Trophy winning running back at Auburn University or later as a Pro Bowler for the then-called Los Angeles Raiders, Jackson captivated the nation.
Now, a new ESPN Films 30 for 30 presentation showcases the greatness of this uniquely talented dual-threat athlete, premiering Saturday. In an ESPN Films 30 for 30 conference call, Jackson, in an excerpted interview, opens up about his star-highlighted career.
Q. Would you say you consider yourself a very private person? You obviously have not been out seeking the spotlight a lot since your career was over, but would you describe that’s just your personality or something more conscious trying to avoid things? What’s the biggest reason we don’t see you out there a lot like some other former athletes?
BO JACKSON: Well, it’s probably because I am ?? don’t get me wrong, I love my privacy. I love my privacy. I am out there in the public, but if I’m out there, I’m not out there to be seen or to be noticed, if you get my point. I’m not out there at ?? I don’t do the bar scene, I don’t do the nightclub scene. If you see me out in public, it’s usually at the supermarket, service station or on the golf course.
Q. I’m curious if you’ve seen Robert Griffin III and what you think of him? How much football do you watch, pro football?
BO JACKSON: I seldomly watch football, but the true players that I watch honestly, if I do sit down and watch, and usually what I see I see on the news unless my wife makes me watch the football game with her, and she physically makes me watch. I try to keep up with what Cam Newton is doing, and I keep up with what RG3 is doing. I’m a fan of both of these young men. I think they are two of the most talented, most dangerous players in the NFL, and I think that they will set a lot of records in the days to come. If they can stay healthy, they will set a lot of records.
Q. What do you think of RG3’s game and what his talent is and how much fun it is to watch him?
BO JACKSON: Well, the kid is dangerous. He is a smaller version of Cam Newton. He’s dangerous. He can beat anybody with his arm, he can beat everybody with his feet, and the thing about it, he does it with a smile on his face. He’s having fun being a leader, and that’s all that matters.
Q. Looking back, what was the toughest aspect of playing two sports at a high level?
BO JACKSON: What was the toughest aspect of playing two sports on a high level? Simple: Going to the supermarket and shopping and trying not to be recognized. That’s it. Because I am the cook in the family, I do all the cooking. I don’t allow my wife around sharp objects, so I do all of the cooking. So in turn, I have to go to the grocery store because I know what I need, I know what to get and so forth and so on. And sometimes she goes with me, and sometimes back when I was doing both sports, that got a little hectic going to the supermarket in Kansas City, going to the supermarket in Los Angeles, and that was about it. Everything else was just fine. I had no problems with actually both sports and so forth and so on. It comes with the territory as far as being recognizable and noticed.
Q. I just got a question. You are synonymous with the Nike campaign and obviously the name of this film kind of plays off of that. This campaign back in ’84, you were synonymous with Nike. Do you think in the 30 years that have passed the effect that Nike has had on college sports has been positive or negative, in other words, the amount of money that’s been poured in by Phil Knight, the control they have over AAU teams. What’s your feeling on the role that Nike has in college athletics?
BO JACKSON: Listen, I think Nike, and not only just college sports but all sports, are good marriages, period. If you’ve got a quality product out there that everybody wants to wear or use, that’s great. That’s great. If you make a quality product that someone wants to pay for to wear, that’s good for both sides. The consumer is getting a good product and the manufacturer is making a profit. That’s a win?win for everybody. And what Phil Knight and Nike has done for all sports is great, and I can tell you this: If Phil Knight hadn’t have done it, somebody else would have.
Q. Of course you won a Heisman Trophy and two of the guys in Cam Newton and RG3 both won Heismans. We may be on the verge this coming weekend of having the first freshman to win a Heisman Trophy. Have you seen Johnny Manziel play and what are your thoughts about a freshman potentially winning the Heisman?
BO JACKSON: You know something, it has never been done in the history of college sports. If it’s done, that’s great. But you’ve got people out there that’s voting that just will not vote for a freshman. He has to have a little bit more dirt in his cleats to do ?? and that’s what I am saying is that there are writers out there that believe that he should have a little bit more dirt in his cleats to win an award like that.
And I think if he stays healthy, if he don’t win it this year, trust me, he will before he leaves college. He is a talented kid. He is a talented young man. But I have actually watched film. If he makes it to the professional level, I will be watching three quarterbacks in the future.
Q. If you had to sum up why you were such a phenomenon at the peak of your day, what would be a few words you would use or a few sentences you would use to sum up why do you think you were such a phenomenon?
BO JACKSON: I don’t ?? I would never call myself that. I’m just being me. I think you all labeled me as that, or the phrase that most of my buddies, my teammates, used, a freak of nature. But the stuff that I was doing throughout college and through my short pro career, I was doing that when I was a teenager, when I was 12, 13, 14 years old. It was normal to me.
My people, my friends and people that I grew up with and parents of my friends, they would say, oh, we used to see him do that all the time. That’s nothing new. And that was normal for me.
So as far as doing the dual sports thing, that was just a way to keep me out of trouble. Idle time with me is the devil’s workshop, and if my mother was still alive, she would tell you.
Q. Let me ask you one follow?up. I guess when I said “phenomenon” I was going along the lines of not only being a sports athlete but transcending pop culture, going into the Nike commercials. And when Nike did approach you, what did you first think about this big campaign they were going to do with you that I think in my opinion took you to another level? Do you agree or disagree?
BO JACKSON: I agree with that to a point. It could have been Nike, it could have been Adidas, it could have been anybody, it could have been Converse, could have been anybody. But you have to perform to get that notoriety. You just can’t go and put your name on a shoe and become an overnight sensation. You have to prove it.
I just heard Pat Sullivan say last night, what he told one of his players is that if you want nice things in life, earn it. And back when I was playing, that was my job. I never saw it as, hey, I’m transcending an era here and I’m a pop icon or whatever or I’m this person. I saw what I was doing ?? and I’m not blowing smoke here. I saw what I was doing; it was my job. I had fun playing in college because I had no responsibilities or anything like that. But once I left college, playing sports became my way of life. It was my source of employment. It was my way of keeping a roof over my family’s head, putting food on the table for my family. So I looked at doing both sports as my job, and I took it that way.