- Ian Livingston Brooking
Will we ever see a two-way player in American professional sports?
Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders.
Two different prolific figures in sports with two different personalities.
Vincent “Bo” Jackson, played college football and baseball at Auburn University from 1982 to 1985, running for over 4,300 yards and winning the Heisman Trophy in his senior year. After tearing it up on the field in the fall, Jackson wowed spectators in the spring with his performances on the baseball diamond. At Auburn, Jackson recorded a batting average of .330, had 96 hits, 28 homeruns and 70 RBIs.
It should be noted that Jackson missed the 1984 baseball season due to injury and could not play for much of his 1986 senior season due to being deemed ineligible by the NCAA after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lied to Jackson that his visit to team facilities was approved by the NCAA.
In a 2012 ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, Jackson said that he believed the failure to obtain NCAA approval was deliberate and was intended by the Buccaneers to get him to play football instead of baseball.
Jackson stuck with his vow and signed with the Kansas City Royals despite being drafted by the Buccaneers in 1986. During his time in baseball, Jackson would record 598 hits, 141 home runs and 415 RBIs. Jackson was pegged as an All-Star in 1989 and was named the MVP of the 1989 MLB All-Star Game.
In 1987, Jackson was able to get drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders in the seventh round. When he stepped back onto the football field, it was as if he never left. In his four seasons in the NFL, Jackson rushed for 2,782 yards and 16 touchdowns with an average yards per carry of 5.4. He also caught 40 passes for 352 yards and two touchdowns.
Jackson suffered a career-ending hip injury during a 1991 playoff game. The injury would force Jackson to miss the 1992 baseball season. Despite making a comeback in 1993, Jackson would formerly retire from sports in 1994, at the age of 32.
Jackson wowed audiences in both sports with a sense of humbleness. Jackson was known to not express himself, much unlike the other well-known multi-sport athlete: Deion “Prime Time” Sanders.
Sanders played at football at Florida State from 1985 to 1988. He was known return man and an excellent defender on the football field. As for his work on the baseball diamond, Sanders was known for stealing bases. Sanders was drafted by the New York Yankees in 1988 and made his major league debut on May 31, 1989.
Sanders baseball career spanned from 1989 to 1995, with stints in 1997 and 2001. During his time on the diamond, Sanders hit close to 40 home runs and stole over 185 bases.
When it came to football, Sanders was regarded as one of the best defensive players in the league, winning Defensive Player of the Year in 1994. Sanders played for the Atlanta Falcons from 1989 to 1993 while also playing for Atlanta’s MLB team, the Braves, from 1991 to 1994.
Sanders’ football career included time on four different teams from 1989 to 2000, winning two Super Bowls. Sanders returned for a brief two-year stint with the Baltimore Ravens for the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
In a world of talented athletes like LeBron James, Russell Wilson, Zion Williamson and several others, why do we not see any multi-sport athletes in professional sports these days? LeBron played football in high school before ultimately sticking with basketball. Wilson was selected in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB draft and played some minor league before choosing football and getting drafted by the Seahawks in 2012. Wilson won the Super Bowl the following season in 2013.
Fast forward to Feb. 17, 2018. As Coastal Carolina baseball is celebrating a 4-3 walk-off win in the tenth inning over #18 Oklahoma, Kyler Murray watches his teammates walk off the diamond in defeat. Later that summer, Murray would be picked as the ninth overall pick in the MLB draft. Jump ahead to Dec. 8, 2018 and Murray is hearing his name called as the winner of the Heisman Trophy, the highest honor bestowed on any college football player.
Murray, faced with the choice to play one sport or the other, or try to be a two-sport athlete like Jackson and Sanders, decided to enter the NFL Draft and forgo playing baseball.
The decision has been a hot topic in the sports community as players and coaches from both sports, past and present, weighed in.
Marcus Outlow, who played running back at Coastal Carolina for the past two seasons, gave his thoughts as to why he believed Murray chose NFL over MLB.
“Murray definitely chose football over baseball for the money,” said Outlow. “He wanted at least fifteen million from Oakland but he wasn’t going to get that. The NFL team that drafts him will give him that and much, especially since he will be a top 10 pick.”
Coastal Carolina baseball coach Gary Gilmore weighed in with his take on Murray’s decision.
“Financially, there is not a lot of ways he can go backwards,” said Gilmore. “He was going to be a multi-millionaire whichever route he goes. Ultimately, I think the big thing for him was that he wanted a guarantee that he wasn’t going to play in the minors. And what a lot of people don’t realize is that first round draft picks like himself are the most scrutinized baseball players on the planet.”
Gilmore says since the MLB Draft began, statistics show that six out ten players drafted in the first round make it to the major leagues.
“That is a forty percent failure rate right there,” said Gilmore. “Murray asking to not play in the minor leagues, I felt for sure that Oakland had no choice but to walk away.”
One of things that Outlow brought up as to why he thought Murray was going to play baseball because it is far less physical than football.
“I personally feel like he would have much less wear and tear on his body if he stuck with baseball but then again, money talks,” said Outlow. “I just think that he is a little undersized to play quarterback in the NFL.”
Murray is listed as five-foot-nine. Should Murray win a Super Bowl in his career, he will be the shortest quarterback to win a Super Bowl. The current shortest quarterback to win? Russell Wilson, who is five-foot-eleven.
NFL insiders have Murray going as a first round draft pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, with some mock drafts suggesting he will go in the top-five. When NFL Draft happens on Apr. 26, we shall see what team thinks that Murray is the guy to lead them to glory.