Big Heisman On Campus: Bo Jackson goes back to school

Do you know her? Are you her? And do you have that photo?

In 1990, Bo Jackson went back to school—at the height of Nike’s “Bo Knows” campaign, when he was bigger than Michael Jordan, when he was kind of making cameos in Pretty Woman and Lethal Weapon. Back to school. It was a different time.

I can’t imagine what it would be like if Cam Newton went back to school. You can’t either. The tweets—my God, the tweets. (The retweets—my God, the retweets.) For the Blessed Individual to attempt to complete his education at Auburn University in this day and age would be a logistical nightmare from which Tim Jackson would never wake up. I’m close to calling it straight up impossible.

But for Bo, all things are possible, or at least they were 22 years ago. Bo actually told reporters that his celebrity wasn’t a big deal, that everyone at Auburn—students, professors, deans—treated him the same way they treated him the first go round. Judging by the above photo, that seems less than accurate. But speaking of, we need your help: What does the full-frontal view of Bo the just-returned academic prodigal sticking out his tongue at an Auburn student look like? It’s a 22-year old mystery, and we’re trying to solve it all “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”-style by tracking down the Girl With The Amateur Point and Click. Do you know her? Are you her? And do you have the photo?

Bo was 23 credits shy of his degree in family and child development, just over a quarter’s worth of work. Why go back? He promised his mom he would graduate (which he eventually did, in 1995) and because the money you make from being an All-Star in two professional sports is “going to be gone at some point. And you can’t get rid of a degree.”

That’s how he explained his reasoning at the press conference announcing his return to AU for a required five-credit internship that was held Jan. 18, 1990 at 11 a.m. in a dimly lit classroom in Spidle Hall. Bo sat at a table lined with microphones. He wore a blue Cosby sweater with a little golfer design, khaki slacks, a gold watch, and sunglasses that he eventually took off. Cameras flashed. Here’s the insightful—Bo was apparently asked to pledge a fraternity—transcript of that press conference, for Bo-sterity’s sake.


June Henton: Good morning, my name is June Henton, I’m the dean of the School of Human Sciences and I would like to take this opportunity to welcome all of you to Auburn University and to our school. We are very pleased to have Bo Jackson working on the continuation of his degree. He told us when he left… that he would be back back…but there’s seems to have been a tremendous of amount of interest in the fact that he has returned and we have been very pleased about that. I think you’ve been given some information about the academic programs in the school. I would just like to mention that Bo is majoring in Department of Family and Child Development. This program is in the School of Human Sciences program that focuses on the study of individual and relationship development. People in the department are here to respond to any question that you might have about the academic program. I would like to introduce Bo Jackson and ask if he would come and see if he has any comments to make and entertain any questions..

Bo: Good morning. Good morning, I really don’t have too much to say except that I am back in school for a quarter for my internship and just like Dr. Henton said I’m here trying to finish up my degree. I put it off for three and a half years and I thought it was due time to come back and at least get as close to finishing as I can. It’s something that I need once I finish in the sports world to get ahead in life and secure a good job somewhere down the road… well since there’s no questions, I guess I’ll go.

[Laughter]

Reporter: Bo, tell me how you many credits you lack.

Bo: I’m taking some correspondence courses now that I’ve been working on while in Los Angeles and my internship is a five-hour credit. After this is up, I’ll be 23 credits shy of getting my degree.

Reporter: A lot of people would say ‘why, when you’ve got all this money…’ – a lot of people would say ‘why come back to school?’

Bo: A lot of people – you are absolutely right. A lot of people would say that. And I think that most people in my position wouldn’t come back, but I’m not most people. I’m always that unpredictable person, that people would never expect what I do to happen. It’s something that I worked hard on for four years when I was in here at Auburn. Unfortunately I didn’t finish in four years. But I’ve never been known to be a quitter in something that I’ve started. And it’s something I promised my mother I would do. I would be the first in my family to get a degree from a major college. And I’m hopeful that will … I don’t know how to put this… influence my younger relatives in my family, my nephews and my nieces and so forth and so on to go on to college to try to do something and be someone.

Reporter: What kind of advice would you give your teammates who are looking at life beyond sports?

Bo: Who haven’t already gotten their degree? I would encourage them to go to back to school to try to finish up because the money that you make out there isn’t going to last a lifetime. It’s going to be gone at some point. And you can’t get rid of a degree. It’s something you will always have. Something you will always cherish. And it’s something that, once you get out of the sports world, which will sometime, they have to do something to provide for themselves and their families.

Reporter: What do you want to do?

Bo: I want to work with my wife, really. She’s collecting data here now and getting her doctorate and in a couple of years wants to start her own private practice. I’ll probably be the janitor, of course [Laughter], but hopefully we can start a private practice.

Reporter: [unintelligible…]

Bo: … I’m the kind of person that has to keep myself busy to stay out of trouble. I don’t mean bad trouble. But it’s something that I put off for a long time and I just thought it was the time for me to come back and finish up. And I want to [thank?] the professors and deans and so forth and so on for letting me back in school, and things are going great now….

Reporter: What do you think about players who give up their senior year and don’t finish their education?

Bo: Well some players, I hate to say this, but some athletes go to college to play ball… and I’m not saying that these guys are like that… but there are numerous athletes who leave college before their time is up and I guess one of their main reasons is their financial situation. I know most of the guys I know that have left college earlier, they’ve left college to try to make some money for their family back home. There are guys that do that, there are some guys that come and think it’s just their ticket to the pros so it’s really hard to say why guys leave college early. I guess you would have to sit down and talk to them about that because I and the public can only really speculate why they left but no one really knows but the person that’s doing that.

Reporter [Not sure if he was there—he was in attendance at Bo’s Auburn press conference to announce his decision to play for the Raiders two years earlier—but it sounds like Paul Finebaum]: Would you give someone advice to stay in school if they’re financially able? [Not sure if he was there—he was in attendance at Bo’s Auburn press conference to announce his decision to play for the Raiders two years earlier—but it sounds like Paul Finebaum.]

Bo: You can give anybody that advice but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have to take it. Of course I would, but I wouldn’t want to be the one that they blame for not doing something that they should have done. Whatever is out there for the athlete now, it’s up to them to take advantage while they’re here at school and it’s up to them if they want to stay or go.

Reporter: You said you were taking courses at a school out in L.A., which school is it?

Bo: I’d rather not say, but I am involved in some correspondence courses.

[There’s some sort hard to hear back and forth with a reporter about how Bo is finding the time to finish his degree.]

Reporter: … baseball players have a lot of free time…?

Bo: It’s not really free time and I resent that remark because I don’t think there’s anybody in this room that could go out and play 162 days straight or as a matter of fact go to work for 162 games—that’s not counting spring training—but with me in Kansas City the whole summer, it’s possible I can take some correspondence courses there and at one of the universities there and transfer the credit hours back here.

Reporter: I hear you’re working on [something about Sports Illustrated] and an autobiography.

Bo: This interview is for Family and Child Development; let’s let it stay that way.

Reporter: Coming back (to Auburn), does it feel like it always has, like home?

Bo: Well, it is home for me. I have a house here and whenever my family and I get the chance we try to get back here as much as possible because this is a place where I can get away from you guys and the only person I have trouble dodging is Dick [Dick Schaap, co-author of Bo Knows Bo] over there, but he chases me around campus and I give him the slip every time, but besides that this is home, and it’s great to come back here and to be around the wonderful people and friends I‘ve met over the years when I lived here.

Reporter: When do you leave for spring training, Bo?

Bo: Um, that depends. I don’t know.

Reporter: How does school make you feel?

Bo: I guess it makes me feel like it every other student feels, that they want to be out doing something else, [Laughter] something we have to do in order to better our lives. And there are mornings that I don’t want to come in and I’m sure it’s quite sure the same with your job, like you woke up this morning and saw it was raining, you wouldn’t want to get out and lug that camera around and so forth and so on… same as with any other occupation, something you have to do to get ahead in life…

Reporter: What drew you to this major?

Bo: It always fascinated me how my mother single handedly raised all of us… and my abundance of nieces and nephews, I think at last count there were 27 nieces and nephews that I have… being with them, loving them and watching them grow up. I don’t’ think there’s anything out side of sports that I’d rather be doing than working with kids.

Reporter: Any similarities between how you approach school and how you approach athletics?

Bo: It’s the same frame of mind. I try to jump in with both feet and find out what you need to do to win. Sometimes you’re going to lose, but a lot of times you’re going to win. I guess it’s more determination, really, and what you want out of life. You get out of it what you put in to it. That’s the bottom line.

Reporter: When you were at Auburn University, did you find your coaches and athletic department being supportive of you and other athletes going to school, getting your education, getting your diploma?

Bo: Yes, because there were some athletes they had to beat and drag out of the dorm to get to class. We weren’t treated any differently. There were some guys who cared about their future and there were some guys who only cared about getting to the pros to make money.

Reporter: Have you spoken to any athletes on campus to encourage them to do what you’re doing now?

Bo: Yes, I have, but like I said, you can only do so much. I care about what they do, because they may not be able to cut it in the pros like some players. And then they have to come back here. And then they come back and say, ‘man, I wish I stayed in school and had done this while I was here instead of screwing around.’

Reporter: Do you feel like you’re treated differently now that you’re back?

Bo: It’s just like it was four years ago when I was here. No one treats me differently.

Reporter: Do you treat things differently than the first time you were here?

Bo: No. I don’t look down my nose at people, if that’s what you mean, or expect to be treated different, no.

Reporter: What about as far as your study habits?

Bo: Oh, yes. I’m a whole lot more serious about it now since I’m paying for it.

[Laughter]

Reporter: What are some of the things you’re working on?

Bo: I’m working on an 8-10 minute video piece promoting the department so when it’s finished it can be used in high schools to show kids that sports and the party life isn’t the only thing that you go to college for. And that human sciences is one of the areas that they should at least consider. That’s the goal of the film. Not that if you watch the film it’s saying should enroll human science but it’s just trying to enlighten students who haven’t had any college experience to what the academic side of college is like. The video will be used to show at seminars, and for incoming freshman who are probably thinking bout declaring human sciences as their major. And not to sound conceited or anything, but I hope that young people look at Bo as some type of role model and so forth and so on so if they see me doing this about academics that they will probably take their academics a little bit more serious. Here’s this guy playing two sports but on his time off playing he’s busting his butt to go to school trying to get his degree. I hope it instills some sort of want to in the young kids to take their school a whole lot more serious.

Reporter: Are you making all A’s?

Bo: I’m not the brightest person in the world. If I was, I probably would have finished three years ago.

Reporter: You probably didn’t have time last around but this time are you planning on pledging any fraternities?

Bo: No. [Laughter] I don’t have time for it but I have been approached about it… it would be something I might like but I really don’t have time for it.

Reporter: Are you thinking of playing hockey?

Bo: Not really.

Reporter: What about intramurals… are you going to play intramurals at all?

Bo: I do enough playing from March 1 to Dec. 1. I think I do enough playing. The only recreation I do while I’m here is fishing, hunting and driving my jeep. I don’t know who the cones belong to outside that I run over. I like to throw it in four-wheel drive and go.

Reporter: Have you had any conversations with Coach Dye since you’ve been back?

Bo: Yes, Coach Dye is one of the few people that I hang out with. And what I mean by hang out with is get together and go fishing and go hunting and talk about some of the players on the team and so forth and so on. And talk about how the university has grown in four or five years. They built a new stadium, built a new sports facility across the street and so forth and so on, just reminiscing about old times.

Reporter: Is school easier for you this time?

Bo: Yes, because I don’t have the distractions I did when I was here last time—a big game coming up or a pep rally or partying with some of my buddies and so forth and so on.

Reporter: What’s the toughest part for you?

Bo: The toughest part of school? Getting up and trying to get dressed in the morning and trying to get ready while your two kids are wanting you to come and wrestle and do this and do that. But it’s fun.

The transcript is of former Lovelace Museum curator and Bo enthusiast David Rosenblatt’s recording of the press conference. Photos via the SI Vault and the OA-News.

Related: The ProBotional materials for the 1985 Heisman race.

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