On June 7, 1986, the Kansas City Royals draft football star Bo Jackson, the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner out of Auburn University, in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft. Jackson’s decision to pursue baseball instead of football shocked the NFL and football fans across the country.
Jackson was drafted by the Yankees out of high school in the second round of the 1982 draft, but decided instead to attend Auburn, where he was a football sensation. In his senior year he racked up four straight games with over 200 rushing yards and won the Heisman Trophy, separating himself from the rest of his competitors as the best NFL prospect that year. The lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers made Jackson the first overall pick in the 1986 NFL draft, but Jackson, who had also been a stand-out college baseball player and track star, chose instead to pursue baseball.
Jackson made his major league debut with the Royals in 1986, and the next year decided to reignite his football career. He was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the seventh round of the 1987 NFL draft, and Al Davis, the Raiders’ owner and general manager, promised Jackson that he could complete his baseball season before joining the team. Jackson accepted the offer, which included full-time pay for a half-season of play.
Jackson enjoyed his best year in baseball in 1989, when he made the All-Star team and hit a gargantuan lead-off home run to win the All-Star Game’s Most Valuable Player Award. At that time, Jackson–who was capable of spectacular catches, throwing runners out from deep in the outfield, running faster than anyone in the sport and hitting deep home runs—was considered one of the best players in baseball. He was also elected to the NFL Pro Bowl that year, making him the first person elected to the All-Star team in two major sports. He made the Pro Bowl again in 1990.
Following the 1990 NFL regular season, Jackson injured his hip in a playoff game while running the ball for the Raiders, and missed that year’s Pro Bowl (held in early 1991) as a result. The injury led to a deterioration of the cartilage around his hip joint, which eventually necessitated a hip replacement and forced Jackson to retire from football after the 1990 season. He was also released by the Royals, but returned to the major leagues to play for the White Sox in 1993 and the California Angels in 1994. In all, he played 160 games in two seasons on an artificial hip.
Still famed for his pioneering athletic feats in two professional sports and a hugely popular “Bo Knows” Nike ad campaign, Jackson finally retired from baseball during the 1994 season.