Former Heisman Trophy winner and Oakland Raiders star running back Bo Jackson said he would not play football if he were growing up today and will not let his children play the sport he is best known for, according to an extensive interview with USA Today.
Jackson also starred as a professional baseball player, playing both football and baseball professionally for several years in the late 1980s. Jackson’s football career was ended after he suffered a severe hip injury while being tackled in a playoff game in January 1991. The injury also impacted his baseball career, which ended in 1994.
“If I knew back then what I know now. I would have never played football. Never. I wish I had known about all of those head injuries, but no one knew that. And the people that did know that, they wouldn’t tell anybody,” Jackson told USA Today.
He said he has encouraged his children to play “anything but football.”
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“There’s no way I would ever allow my kids to play football today. Even though I love the sport, I’d smack them in the mouth if they said they wanted to play football,” said the 54-year-old Jackson, who has two sons and a daughter.
Jackson said the head injuries associated with football — and its overall roughness — were the biggest factors. The repeated blows to the head associated with football have been linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which causes the build up of proteins in the brain and can lead to memory loss, erratic behavior, aggression, depression and dementia, according to the Brain Injury Research Institute.
The number of former NFL players who have suffered from the disease is long — and growing, including several stars from around Jackson’s time in the NFL like linebacker Junior Seau and safety Andre Waters.
The NFL admitted in 2016 — after much hand-wringing and many denials and delays — that there is a link between football and CTE.
Jackson chided the NFL for keeping that information from the players in his interview with USA Today.
Jackson played parts of four seasons in the NFL, all with the Raiders. He rushed for less than 3,000 yards in his career and scored 18 total touchdowns in 38 career games. But his combination of power and speed made him a fan favorite.
Jackson, then an outfielder with the Kansas City Royals, was MVP of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in 1989, his lone all-star season. He was the 1993 Comeback Player of the Year in baseball, after returning from his hip injury to hit 16 home runs for the Chicago White Sox. He played parts of nine seasons in the big leagues.
He was an iconic figure for his prowess in both sports, spawning the “Bo Knows” Nike ad campaign.
Jackson continues to appear in commercials, centered around the “Tecmo Bowl” video game, in which Jackson was one of the game’s most dominant players.