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    Bo Jackson, The Last Folk Hero

    Bo Jackson's refusal to conform and prioritize his own values and interests made him an admirable athlete, known for his memorable moments in both football and baseball.

    enNovember 02, 2022

    About this Episode

    In the 80s and 90s, few sports stars loomed as large as Bo Jackson. A Kansas City Royal and an Oakland Raider, he was the rare athlete to play two professional sports. His strength and power seemed supernatural. He soared into end zones, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.13 seconds, hit meteoric home runs, and broke baseball bats over his head for fun. And those were just his documented exploits. Because Bo played in an era before smartphones, stories circulated — that could never be entirely proven or disproven — that he was capable of even more impressive feats. The guy was the stuff of legends.

    For this reason, Jeff Pearlman has entitled his new biography of Bo: The Last Folk Hero. Today on the show, Jeff and I talk about Bo's Paul Bunyan-esque stature, and the real life behind the legend. We discuss both the flaws and the strengths of Bo Jackson, and how natural talent can be both a hindrance and a help, as we trace his life from an impoverished upbringing as one of ten kids, to how he managed to secure an arrangement where he got to play two professional sports. Jeff explains how Bo never liked to practice — because he was so naturally gifted he didn't need to — why Bo didn't take the deal when the Yankees tried to draft him out of high school, the flash-bulb moments he achieved in college and the pros, how a hip injury ended his football days but didn't entirely finish him off for baseball, and why, after such a neon career, Bo has largely disappeared from the public eye.

    Bo Highlights Mentioned in the Show

    Connect With Jeff Pearlman

    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • Bo Jackson's extraordinary natural talent and legendary feats made him an iconic figure in sports and popular culture, despite the lack of constant social media coverage.
    • Bo Jackson's larger-than-life stories and lack of visual evidence make him a fascinating figure, reminding us of the allure of mystery and wonder in a digital age.
    • Despite a challenging upbringing and obstacles, Bo Jackson's incredible talents, resilience, and determination showcase the untapped potential within individuals, inspiring us to overcome adversity.
    • Providing support and opportunities to individuals in challenging situations can redirect their lives and unlock their potential. It's important to understand others' backgrounds before judging them based on their actions.
    • Natural talent is not enough; dedication and discipline are essential for achieving greatness in sports. Neglecting training can limit one's achievements in the long run.
    • Bo Jackson's choices were driven by personal values rather than external pressures, showing that prioritizing education, family, and personal enjoyment can lead to fulfilling success.
    • Bo Jackson's indifference towards fame and attention can be attributed to his immense talent, financial security, and personal characteristics, making him a humble and down-to-earth sports legend.
    • Stereotypes can hinder recognition of someone's true abilities; it is crucial to look past superficial judgments and appreciate talent and dedication.
    • Bo Jackson's ability to navigate the challenges of college sports regulations and excel in multiple sports demonstrates his extraordinary talent, leading to a unique dilemma for professional teams.
    • Bo Jackson's ability to prioritize his own happiness and not let negativity affect him demonstrates the importance of separating personal life from the opinions of others for a fulfilling life.
    • Bo Jackson's refusal to conform and prioritize his own values and interests made him an admirable athlete, known for his memorable moments in both football and baseball.
    • Bo Jackson's talent and success were overshadowed by injuries and the opinions of others, highlighting the importance of staying true to oneself despite external pressures.
    • Bo Jackson's journey teaches us the importance of resilience, dedication, and pushing ourselves beyond perceived limitations to achieve our goals.
    • Bo Jackson's determination and resilience allowed him to overcome physical limitations and achieve greatness, both on and off the field. His love for family brings him ultimate happiness.
    • Don't take things too seriously, be likable by not caring too much about what others think, work hard to reach your potential, and prioritize self-care for better physical well-being.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    The Last American Folk Hero: Bo Jackson's Legendary Athleticism

    Bo Jackson was a true folk hero of his time. He possessed extraordinary strength and athleticism, excelling in both professional baseball and football. Bo's natural talent was so exceptional that he often didn't feel the need to practice. However, what made Bo even more legendary was the fact that his feats were not constantly recorded or shared on social media like they would be today. He became the stuff of legends, with stories circulating about his seemingly superhuman abilities. Bo's accomplishments, such as running a 4.13-second 40-yard dash and winning the state decathlon championship, were awe-inspiring and almost unbelievable. His impact on sports and popular culture during the 80s and 90s solidifies his status as the last American folk hero.

    The Mythical Legends of Bo Jackson

    Bo Jackson's extraordinary feats and legends surrounding him are something to be cherished. Many of these stories are so outrageous that they almost seem unbelievable, but they add to his mythical status. Due to the lack of cameras or video footage during his time, we can only rely on secondhand accounts and our imagination to grasp the magnitude of his accomplishments. Bo Jackson's bravery, such as potentially assisting in flying a plane during an emergency, adds to the Paul Bunyan-like lore surrounding him. In today's digital age, where everything is documented, there is a sense of longing for the mystery and wonder that Bo Jackson's stories instill.

    Supernatural Talent Beyond Sports: The Story of Bo Jackson

    The promise and peril of supernatural talent can be found across various domains, not just in sports. Bo Jackson's life exemplifies this theme, as he was born with incredible raw talents despite growing up in poverty. His upbringing was challenging, but it was through mischief and overcoming obstacles that he developed his skills. His physical abilities and remarkable performances caught the attention of recruiters, eventually propelling him into the spotlight. Furthermore, his experiences with bullying due to his stutter taught him to stand up for himself and ensure that no one would make fun of him again. This story reminds us of the potential and resilience that lies within individuals, even in the face of adversity.

    The Transformative Power of Positive Influences

    Our circumstances and experiences shape our behaviors and choices. Despite facing severe adversity, Bo Jackson's decision to pursue sports instead of continuing down a destructive path demonstrates the transformative power of positive influences. Growing up in poverty, enduring physical abuse, and lacking parental support left him hungry for attention and validation. Sports became an escape, offering him special treatment, recognition, and a sense of worth. This highlights the importance of providing support and opportunities to individuals in challenging situations, as it can redirect their lives and unlock their potential. It also reminds us to be mindful of judging others solely based on their actions, as understanding their background can provide valuable context and empathy.

    The importance of practice and hard work in sports

    Natural talent alone is not enough for success in sports. While athletes like Bo Jackson may possess incredible raw abilities, their unwillingness to put in the necessary practice and hard work can hinder their overall performance and potential. Coaches faced challenges in dealing with athletes who did not enjoy practicing, as they recognized the value of their talent but also understood the importance of dedication and discipline. It is interesting to note that some exceptional athletes, like Walter Payton and Kobe Bryant, are not only gifted but also exhibit a strong work ethic, leading to extraordinary greatness. Ultimately, Bo Jackson serves as a reminder that relying solely on natural gifts and neglecting the necessary training can have consequences, potentially limiting one's achievements in the long run.

    Bo Jackson: Prioritizing Education and Family Over Fame and Fortune

    Bo Jackson's priorities were different from most athletes. He prioritized his education and being close to his family over the opportunity to play professional baseball for the New York Yankees. Despite being drafted in the second round and being offered a significant amount of money, he chose to attend Auburn University instead. Bo was indifferent towards the business side of sports and didn't care much about money or fame. His focus was on enjoying the sports he played and being in a comfortable environment. This perspective allowed him to make choices based on personal values rather than external pressures.

    Bo Jackson: Unfazed by Fame and Fortune

    Bo Jackson's indifference towards fame and attention can be attributed to his immense talent, financial security, and personal characteristics like shyness and a stutter. Despite being the national spokesperson for Nike and as big as Michael Jordan, Jackson didn't feel the need to constantly be in the spotlight, sign autographs, or make public appearances. This indifference may have stemmed from the fact that he came from a background where he was not accustomed to the fame and fortune that sports brought. Additionally, his exceptional performance in football and baseball, particularly the iconic "Bo over the top" moment, solidified his status as a legend in Alabama and set the stage for his remarkable career.

    Overcoming Stereotypes and Achieving Greatness

    Bo Jackson faced both success and challenges throughout his college career. Despite his tremendous talent and achievements, he was often criticized and faced unfair racial stereotypes. Bo Jackson's legendary status in baseball stemmed from a significant game where he hit multiple home runs and silenced the heckling fans. However, in football, his reputation was not as consistent due to injuries and accusations of being lazy. It is important to recognize the impact of stereotypes and biases, as they can shape perceptions and hinder recognition of an individual's true abilities. Bo Jackson's story serves as a reminder to look past superficial judgments and appreciate the incredible talent and dedication that lies beneath.

    Bo Jackson's Career Crossroads: Football, Baseball, and the Struggles of College Athletics in the 80s

    Bo Jackson's decision to fly to Tampa to meet with the Buccaneers during his college baseball season ultimately ended his career in baseball. This highlights the strict rules and regulations surrounding college sports during the 80s, where players were prohibited from negotiating or playing professionally. Despite the off-field pressures and temptations, Bo managed to receive money and goods from a business manager without getting caught, which was not uncommon in the SEC at the time. Bo's ability to excel in both college football and baseball led to an interesting dilemma for professional teams, as they were hesitant to invest millions of dollars in an athlete who might potentially get injured playing another sport. Ultimately, Bo's decision to wait for the baseball draft paid off, as the Kansas City Royals secured him in a later round.

    Bo Jackson's Impressive Attitude towards Critics and Opinions

    Bo Jackson's attitude towards criticism and opinions is impressive. He didn't let negative comments from the media or his teammates affect him personally. Bo prioritized his family, his hometown, and his own happiness above what others thought of him. He didn't care if people were mad at him or criticized his leadership on the baseball field. Bo believed in moving on from losses and not dwelling on them. His ability to separate his personal life from the opinions of others is something to be admired. Bo's indifference to negativity allowed him to focus on what truly mattered to him and live a fulfilling life.

    The Uncompromising Athlete: Bo Jackson's Journey

    Bo Jackson was a unique and uncompromising athlete who refused to conform to expectations. He didn't care about pleasing the media or doing a tap dance for anyone. Despite his sometimes moody and intimidating demeanor, his approach to sports and life was admirable. Bo Jackson prioritized his family and personal interests over extended spring training or pleasing his teammates. He made it clear that he wouldn't sign things for the other team or sport, and no one dared to challenge him. Bo Jackson's career was filled with memorable "neon moments," such as his iconic plays in football and baseball, and his ability to shine in the spotlight.

    Bo Jackson's career: iconic moments overshadowed by injuries and criticism

    Bo Jackson's career was filled with incredible moments and unfortunate injuries. From running up walls to throwing out runners, Bo Jackson had iconic moments that will be remembered in sports history. However, his career came to an end due to a devastating hip injury that ended up damaging the bone and causing a diseased hip. Despite this, Bo Jackson stayed on the sidelines instead of being taken to the hospital immediately. The next week, he faced criticism from the media and former teammates who didn't realize the severity of his injury. On top of that, his baseball career was also affected as the Royals blamed him for the injury and questioned his decision to play football. Ultimately, the key takeaway is that Bo Jackson's talent and success were overshadowed by the consequences of his injuries and the opinions of others.

    Bo Jackson: The Comeback Story of Determination and Hard Work

    Bo Jackson's journey of overcoming a severe hip injury showcases the importance of determination and hard work in achieving one's goals. Despite being released by the Royals and facing skepticism from the media, Jackson's resilience allowed him to make a comeback with the White Sox. He devoted himself to intensive rehab, realizing the need to take training seriously and not rely solely on natural talent. Jackson's dedication to his recovery involved moving in with the Chicago trainer and diligently working out every day. This transformation from being perceived as indifferent to someone who gave his all highlights the power of perseverance and the ability to push oneself beyond perceived limitations.

    Bo Jackson's Incredible Comeback and Life Beyond Sports

    Bo Jackson's comeback in 1993, despite his physical limitations and playing with an archaic artificial hip, was one of his greatest achievements. Despite not receiving much recognition, Jackson showed determination and resilience by becoming a functioning major league player. However, after retiring from sports in 1994, he distanced himself from the game and became reclusive. Since then, he has engaged in various endeavors such as being a spring training instructor, running businesses, acting, and supporting charitable causes. Bo Jackson values his family above all else, which is evident from his dedication and love for his wife and three children. Despite his prickly demeanor, he ultimately finds happiness in being a dad and a grandpa.

    Embrace a carefree attitude, work hard, and prioritize health and self-care.

    It's important to not take things too seriously and not care too much about what others think. The conversation discusses the likability of a person who doesn't give a crap and how that can be a positive quality. It also highlights the importance of not coasting on natural talent and putting in the necessary hard work to reach one's full potential. Additionally, it suggests that spreading oneself too thin and not prioritizing self-care can have negative consequences on physical well-being. The conversation underscores the significance of thinking things through and making informed decisions. Overall, the key lessons are to embrace a carefree attitude, work hard, and prioritize health and self-care.

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