With Tom Brady securing his sixth Super Bowl ring last year, the term GOAT, or “greatest of all time,” has been thrown around more than ever before. Some have even gone so far as to claim that Brady is the greatest athlete of all time; but how true can that be? After all, Brady was only great at one sport.
In today’s hyper-specialized society, the expert is valued more than the jack-of-all-trades. The popularity of competitive sports has all but required total dedication to just one set of skills. While athletes such as Patrick Mahomes and Kyler Murray played both football and baseball during their collegiate careers, they pulled the plug on their two-sport lifestyle once they left campus to join the big leagues. Even in these cases, however, having an arm like one of these young men is the definition of transferable job skills; Mahomes using his arm on the mound, and Murray using his in the outfield. If the era of the two-sport athlete is truly gone, let’s look back and appreciate two athletes who managed to make it work: Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders.
While Bo and Deion were must-see television on the diamond and the gridiron, the similarities for the most part ended there. The reserved, muscle-bound Bo Jackson was the first of the two, beginning his career as an outfielder for the Kansas City Royals in 1986. Bo let baseball take priority, only playing seven games in his inaugural season as a fullback for the Oakland Raiders that same year. While he holds the distinction of being the only athlete to be both an all-star in both sports, you’d never know it from how he acted. Bo preferred to let his play do the talking.
Deion Sanders, or “Neon-Deion” as he was often referred to, was Bo’s perfect mirror image. Slighter of frame, yet relentlessly crafty and faster than just about anyone else, Sanders lived for the spotlight. Furthermore, Deion found success as a cornerback, letting baseball take a backseat. He conveyed a preference for football early on, stating “I’m married to football. Baseball is my girlfriend.” Although Bo Jackson was certainly the superior baseball player, Sanders made the two-sport lifestyle work far better than Bo, a feat which was made much easier when he played for both of Atlanta’s football and baseball teams simultaneously.
While the debate over which of these two-sport phenoms was better is an interesting one, I prefer to appreciate the vastly different, yet equally successful approaches Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders took to their combined four professional sports careers. If Tom Brady had chosen to pursue his baseball career as a catcher, perhaps he could have been a part of this conversation. But as it stands, Bo and Deion live on as the greatest outliers in the history of American sports.