SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Bo Jackson wouldn’t change a thing.
The 1985 Heisman Trophy winner told about 300 people attending a College Football Hall of Fame luncheon Thursday that people often tell him how sorry they are that his football and baseball careers were cut short by a hip injury he sustained in 1991.
“Don’t be sorry for me. It was a blessing in disguise,” he said. “We as humans have to realize that God puts speed bumps in our road of life. My speed bump was me injuring myself. I’ve gotten over that. I’ve moved on from being an employee to being an employer.”
The 46-year-old businessman, who played two more seasons with the White Sox after hip replacement surgery in 1992, still lives in the Chicago area. He is a part owner of the Burr Ridge Bank & Trust and owns the Bo Jackson Elite Sports Complex in Lockport, Ill.
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Jackson said he finds being a businessman just as rewarding and challenging as being an athlete.
“I’m learning something new every day. I’m eager to learn,” he said. “I’m also learning that if you don’t watch yourself you can be taken advantage of quickly in the business world. The thing I try to do is surround myself with smart, astute business people and that seems to help out a great deal.”
Jackson, 46, entertained the crowd, telling them his name is short for “Boar Hog,” a nickname neighborhood kids gave him because he was so tough. His mother named him Vincent Edward because she had a crush on actor Vince Edwards who starred in the 1960s TV show “Ben Casey.”
He also said he always had extra motivation to play well against the New York Yankees because he believed team owner George Streinbrenner had told people that he had accepted a payoff to attend Auburn after he passed up a $250,000 signing bonus with the Yankees.
“He said in print the reason Vincent Jackson didn’t sign with the Yankees was because since he signed with Auburn University he and his brothers and sisters are all driving nice cars and his mother just became owner of a chain of 7-Eleven stores,” Jackson said. “I’m thinking, ‘How can he say that?’ And if it’s true, where’s the Porsche I’m supposed to be driving?”
Jackson said he chose college because he wanted to be the first in his family to go to a four-year school. It took a little longer than originally planned, but in 1995 he earned his degree in family and child development from Auburn.
Jackson surprised the sports world back in 1986 when he was taken No. 1 in the NFL draft and spurned a $7 million offer from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Instead he signed to play baseball with the Kansas City Royals. He said he made the decision after visiting Tampa Bay and getting some advice from a well-known veteran defensive player on the Buccaneers, who went 2-14 the previous season.
“He said, ‘Man you don’t want to come here,’” Jackson said. “I said, ‘OK.’”
A year later his agent asked him if he had a problem with an NFL team drafting him and signing him to play football part time.
“I don’t as long as it’s not the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,” Jackson said.
He was eventually taken by the Los Angeles Raiders, for whom he played until he was hurt.
With the Royals, Jackson recalled meeting Ronald Reagan at the 1989 All-Star Game when he and Wade Boggs hit back-to-back home runs. He said shaking the former president’s hand was more memorable than the home run.
“That’s a big deal in everybody’s life,” he said.
Another big event for Jackson happened that year. He made the “Bo Knows” commercial in which Michael Jordan, Kirk Gibson, Jim Everett and other sports stars attest that Bo knows their sport, then Wayne Gretzky skates up and says, “No.” The commercial ends with Jackson trying to play a guitar on stage along with Bo Diddley.
Jackson said his mother, uncles and aunts, all big fans of Diddley, wouldn’t believe he was with the famous musician until they saw the commercial.
“That’s part of what makes my life so unique,” Jackson said. “I’ve gotten to do things, go places, see people, that I never dreamed of. It’s fun.”