PICTURE THIS. BO JACKSON-AT-TIRED in zebra pants, tank top and, of course, Nikes—is standing on the deck outside his sumptuous home in Leawood, Kans., shooting arrows at a target in his yard. Jackson imagines that he’s drawing down on a deer. Or a burglar. “If I ever hear a burglar break into my house,” he muses, “I’ll Id him gel in, and I’ll just pin him with my bow and have a wall mount.”
Clearly, Bo knows bows. But there’s something sad about this tableau of the world’s greatest athlete reduced to turning bad guys into pin-cushions in his mind. Just now, Jackson—whose moon-shot homers and heart-stopping TD scampers have made him a pop hero as well as a rich man in the endorsement racket—may be without a team sport.
On March 18, Jackson, 28, was released by baseball’s Kansas City Royals after the team physician diagnosed avascular necrosis, a degenerative bone condition, in his left hip. He’d hurt the hip” while pursuing his “hobby”—running out of the back-field for the L.A. Raiders.
At first it seemed that the injury, incurred Jan. 13 during an NFL play-off game against the Cincinnati Bengals, would sideline Bo for good. But last month, the Chicago White Sox decided to gamble on him. They signed Bo to a contract in which both sides share the economic risk of his hazy future. Jackson could earn $8.15 million over three years, but the Sox have guaranteed only $700,000 for this year. The team’s decision was based on a counter-diagnosis made by Dr. James Andrews, a well-known orthopedist and sports-medicine man from Birmingham, Ala.
Andrew does not think Bo has typical avascular necrosis, which could require hip-replacement surgery. He says there are signs that the socket bone in Bo’s hip is healing. The problem lies with the damaged cartilage, which the White Sox are betting will mend.
As far as Bo is concerned, his comeback can’t possibly get started soon enough. Since his injury, he has not even been able to bring himself to read the sports pages of the Kansas City papers. “I go out every Sunday morning, get the paper, sit in my yard and read the comics,” he says. Unable to play ball and forced to hobble about on crutches, Jackson says he feels “like a caged animal.” A Bo Jackson without an athletic outlet is a somewhat dangerous proposition. Indeed, according to his autobiography, Bo Knows Bo, Vincent Edward Jackson was a terror even while he was still in knee pants.
Growing up with nine siblings in a three-room house in Bessemer, Ala., Jackson was bigger and tougher than everybody else. He could also be nastier—a neighborhood bulb embarrassed by his stutter. He extorted lunch money from his peers and would beat the local minister’s pigs to death. Then, at McAdory High School in McCalla, Ala., he converted his animus into athletic prowess. This is when the Bo myth properly kicks in—when the hero leaps full-blown from Zeus’ brow. One story tells of the day Bo hit a shallow pop fly, which the left fielder, playing Bo right at the fence, could not reach. By the time the kid fielded the ball and threw home, Bo had rounded the bases like an express train and scored standing up.
The legend of Bo Jackson gathered momentum at Auburn, where he won the 1985 Heisman Trophy. The myth became Olympian when he opted to play for both the Raiders and the Royals. If there were any doubters left, Bo silenced them last year when he became the first player ever to be chosen both for baseball’s All-Star game and football’s Pro Bowl. Then, in the play-off game in Cincinnati, the legend fell to earth.
These days, instead of terrorizing pitchers or linebackers, Bo pursues his rehab program, which includes running in a swimming pool and weight training. So pleased is Andrews with Jackson’s progress, he is talking about Bo returning to baseball this year.
The problem just now for Jackson is simply getting through the day. Linda, his wife, who is studying for a Ph.D. in psychology, and the kids—Garrett, 4, Nicholas, 2, and Morgan, 10 months—are clearly the center of his emotional life. But lately, well, Bo’s had a lot of time to kill.
When he gets depressed, he likes to sit in the tiny, sunlit room off the kitchen and straighten his fishing-tackle box. “I feel like I’m going on to greener pastures,” he says about his new White Sox contract, even as he untangles a spinning lure. “All I need to do is get myself back to the playing field.” But will he still try to play two sports? “My goal is to do both,” he says. “But if I can’t, I guess I’ll have to sit my butt down and become a professional fisherman in all seasons.”
He smiles at this, then says, “I’ll be back. I know my body.”
Meanwhile, it’s probably best to stay out of Bo’s backyard.
GIOVANNA BREU in Leawood
GAIL CAMERON WESTCOTT in Birmingham