Even if you’re not a sportsball fan, you’ve probably heard of Bo Jackson. An elite two-sport star for the NFL’s Los Angeles Raiders and MLB’s Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox, and California Angels, he may have captured your heart during his memorable series of “Bo Knows ...” Nike ads. Or if you’re a football fan, you’ll no doubt recall when the all-everything running back bowled over all-talk, all-show linebacker Brian Bosworth during one of the most memorable touchdown runs in Monday Night Football history. (Both players would later make light of the incident in a fun ad for Kia.)
But if all you remember about Jackson are his (undeniably impressive) achievements on the diamond and the gridiron, you’re missing a lot. Turns out Bo doesn’t just know football and baseball, he also knows how to make the world a better place, and he’s put that knowledge to good use … over and over and over again.
The Associated Press recently reported that Jackson paid for the funerals of 21 victims—19 kids and two teachers—of the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting, with a $170,000 donation delivered directly to Gov. Greg Abbott three days after the massacre.
“I don't know if it's because I'm getting old,” Jackson, who will turn 60 later this year, told the AP. “It’s just not right for parents to bury their kids. It’s just not right. I know every family there probably works their butts off just to do what they do ... The last thing they needed was to shell out thousands of dollars for something that never should have happened.”
The AP also notes that Jackson knew about Uvalde long before the shooting at Robb Elementary.
Jackson said he felt a personal connection to the city he’s driven through many times. Uvalde has been a regular stop for a bite to eat or groceries before a long drive farther west to visit a friend’s ranch on hunting trips.
Other fundraising efforts have since raised millions to assist families, and local funeral homes said they wouldn’t charge families for services. But Jackson’s donation was an early point of light for the grieving families.
“The true spirit of our nation is Americans lifting up one another in times of need and hardship,” Abbott said. “In a truly selfless act, Bo covered all funeral expenses for the victims’ families so they would have one less thing to worry about as they grieved.”
So Bo knows good deeds. In fact, he’s been at it so long, he’s a regular charity savant.
For instance, after tornadoes devastated areas of his native Alabama in 2011, Jackson got his legs churning once again, riding a bicycle across the state to raise money for rebuilding—and the event continues to this day.
Rocked by the news, Jackson, a native of Bessemer, Alabama, who starred in football and baseball at Auburn University, knew he couldn’t just sit idly by as the community that supported him in his climb to success was now in ruins.
His idea became reality with the creation of Bo Bikes Bama. Jackson and his friends rode across the state to raise money not only to help rebuild but also to build community storm shelters.
“Bo Bikes Bama is an event where I want to make the rest of the country aware of just how severe a tornado can be. It’s a way of coming back home and doing something for the people that had faith in me when I was younger. Bo Bikes Bama is all about caring about your brothers and sisters,” Jackson says.
And through his Give Me a Chance Foundation, Jackson has also gone out of his way to provide lower-income youth with advanced athletic training opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach for them.
In a 2014 interview with the Raiders’ official website, Jackson gave an overview of the program.
"What we're doing, we are giving inner-city youth the opportunity to get out of that concrete jungle, teach them how to play baseball, teach them how to play organized sports, period, and all in the same breath, we're teaching them life lessons. The big thing with me, you can never understand the life lessons if you don't understand that you have to be successful in the classroom first. Before you can become a successful athlete, you have to be a successful student, and if you can't do that, you can't be a part of our program. We have free tutoring set up for all these kids through the foundation and trust me, it has been very successful and very well accepted by the parents there because 95 to 98 percent of these parents are single parents, and they're usually mothers and they're dealing with these kids by themselves. In order to be a part of Bo Jackson's Give Me A Chance Foundation, you have to be a superstar in the classroom first, or you have to work at being a superstar in the classroom first."
Jackson is also a stutterer, so he understands the obstacles that even many gifted individuals—like, say, the president of the United States—often face. As he said during his 13-minute acceptance speech for Major League Baseball’s “Beacon of Change” award in 2013, where he cited his childhood in Jim Crow Alabama, in a tiny house with outdoor plumbing:
"I never write a speech," he said. "Coming from a kid who inherited stuttering from his father, you'd think I'd be terrified to be up here right now. But I'm more comfortable up here than I was in the backfield or in the batter's box."
Jackson thanked "all the people who allowed us to get where we are now, all those people who paved the road." That list included Martin Luther King, Jackie Robinson, Henry Aaron, Frank Robinson and Ernie Banks, among many more.
Jackson at one point expressed wonder at finding himself in this position, receiving this award: "I'm the eighth of 10 kids, a nappy-headed kid from Alabama," he said. "In a million years I never could have dreamed that I would be here. I didn't get here by myself. It took at lot of people keeping me on the right path."
Jackson’s childhood no doubt contributed to his lifelong sense of compassion. After all, he’s been at this whole giving back thing for a long time. A 1993 Ebony magazine profile noted that his passion for helping disadvantaged children goes all the way back to high school:
Bo has a special place in his heart for sick and troubled children. Since his glory days as a three-sport star in high school, he has visited terminally ill patients at hospitals. “I’m the honorary chairman of the Children’s Miracle Network, which specializes in treating children people say can’t be treated otherwise,” he explains. He also donates funds and time to Chicago’s Off the Street Club, a nonprofit organization that assists inner-city teens.
But hey, who doesn’t slyly slip a C-note to kids at a lemonade stand who are raising money for a children’s hospital? (The look on these kids’ faces as Jackson walks away is priceless.)
Oh yeah—in 2004, instead of enjoying his lifetime VIP status at Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston, Jackson headed to Kuwait to hang out with members of the U.S. military for the weekend.
Speaking for myself, it looks like Bo knows how to warm cynical hearts, too.
Turns out Bosworth wasn’t the only one knocked off his feet by Bo. Quietly, and humbly, he’s been bowling people over with his generosity for years. As Jackson said when he won the MLB Beacon award in 2013,"I try to do what I can to give back. I say that from the standpoint that the country supported me in what I was doing 20, 25 years ago. It's only right that I give back in some capacity. ... I do it from the heart."
The Uvalde shooting was heartbreaking and tragic beyond compare, but as long as people like Jackson keep doing what they do, we can afford to hold out some hope for our future.
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