In June of 1985, when Bo Jackson was preparing for his senior year at Auburn, the Tigers’ Kirk Gibson, a star wide receiver at Michigan State in the late ’70s, had this advice for Bo Jackson: “I’d tell him he’d be crazy not to play baseball, for a number of obvious reasons. I’d tell him that it takes a while to learn to play and to channel one’s football aggressions, but the money and the length of career make it worth it.”
The next July, with Bo playing for the Kansas City Royals, the rumor mill had it that Bo had decided on baseball over football because he didn’t want to get injured in the NFL, didn’t want to get drafted by the Tampa Bay Bucs, and didn’t want to get involved in the players strike that would happen in the NFL in 1987. A source close to Jackson said that if the Buccaneers had traded his rights to the 49ers, he probably would have opted for the NFL, but Bo didn’t want the losses and risk of injury that would have come with playing for Tampa Bay. It was reported that the 49ers, despite having Roger Craig as their running back, were pursuing a trade for Bo up until the summer of 1986.
In any case, he had the freedom to buy his way out of the Royals contract at any point up until April 1988, or if stayed with the Royals till then, the Bucs would lose their option to sign him, and Bo would become a free agent available to sign with a team of his choosing. The source explained: “So what does he have? He has a two-year tryout in baseball, he doesn’t have to play for Tampa Bay, he doesn’t have to worry about a player strike and then he can become the target of one of the fiercest bidding wars in NFL history. It’s rare in sports that you come up with a perfect plan. But this was it.”
You can listen to two audio clips of Bo Jackson plays for the Royals here.