Unstoppable Bo meeting match off the field


Bo Jackson's unprecedented life as an athlete suddenly is as uncertain as a gray winter sky. The Kansas City Royals released him yesterday. Incredible. You can buy him for a buck. He is on the damaged table. His left hip is injured. There is a chance the injury is serious. Very serious.

Tests have revealed early signs of a degenerative condition, common among the elderly, known as avascular necrosis. It means blood isn't circulating to his hip for some reason. The tissue there is dying. Avascular necrosis. A horrible name. Necrosis. Death.

People who suffer from this condition often get a new hip. A synthetic hip. They consider themselves lucky if they are able to walk 18 holes of golf. They do not play major-league baseball, certainly not pro football. If Bo has this condition, he will never play another down or inning.

He is walking around on crutches these days. He also has a fractured bone in his hip. That is the best hope for his future. If that is all that is wrong, he probably can come back. Athletes come back from fractures. It isn't easy, but neither is it uncommon.

The doctors are not agreeing on anything yet. It is that kind of story right now. Some doctors say he could come back this year. Others say maybe never. It is early. This degenerative condition could stop developing. Or it could worsen. It is that kind of story right now. We shall see.

There are a few certainties. That the Royals released him was as much a function of finances as injury. They are buried beneath an avalanche of free-agent contracts. Giving Bo $2.375 million to rehabilitate was, to them, ridiculous. They couldn't afford to wait and see.

The message is clear: They were tired of his two-sport act. They weren't getting the most for their money. Neither were the Los Angeles Raiders. Bo could have been perhaps the best player in either sport. Instead he was just a remarkable athlete who played two sports well.

We don't know if the Royals think Bo can come back. It is that kind of story right now. But it is clear the Royals were tired of these unusual circumstances. They gave up on Bo quickly. They didn't want to see if he might make a comeback. They were tired of paying for part of a player.

Had it been another player, one who didn't play two sports, maybe the Royals might have waited. But as it was, Bo might have rehabbed on their time and recovered just in time to play football. Honestly, can you blame the Royals for losing their patience with this situation?

Now they're rid of it, or at least they hope so. We will just have to see what happens. It is a cloudy story right now. We will have to let the doctors debate their diagnoses, let the lawyers and unions argue about who is responsible for what. Bo says he will be back. We will see.

Regardless, his life as a two-sport athlete probably is over. He was always a risk. Now he is an enormous risk, an injured risk. With salaries running so high, teams are going to want their investments protected. The us-or-else demand was coming. The injury just hastened it.

The truth is that Bo's gamble has failed, at least as an on-field venture. He has played football and baseball for four straight years, and been injured in every season. His body can't take it. It has been a fun piece of business, fascinating. But Bo needed to make a decision.

Had he played just football, he probably would have been the best back in the game. He made the Pro Bowl as a part-timer. It is his best sport. But he just dabbled at it. It bored him. He always quit at any hint of injury. It almost seemed he was playing just to protect his endorsement value.

Had he played just baseball, the Royals' general manager said yesterday, he "could have been the best ever to wear a uniform." He did make the All-Star team, got better every year. But he was still rough. He needed 12-month seasoning. He wasn't nearly the player he could have been.

He was a star, though. In that regard, the gamble worked. He played two sports, and although he didn't set a Hall of Fame pace, he became famous for trying. Very famous. He is a classic case of style over substance. His records didn't warrant his fame, but it didn't matter. He became Bo. Bo!

He did commercials singing opera and playing guitar, doing just about everything. He wrote a book, a best seller. None of it was planned; it just happened. He became big, Big, bigger than his own career as an athlete. People who didn't know he was an athlete knew him as the Bo on television.

He may well be reduced to that if his injury is serious, and that's too bad. It would be a stinging piece of irony, eh? Imagine. One of the world's great athletes stopped not by an injury suffered on the field, but by a condition common to men three times his age.


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