What Happened To The Dual-Sport Professional Athlete?

What Happened To The Dual-Sport Professional Athlete?

Whenever the dual-sport professional athlete is mentioned the first names uttered are usually the same two. It seldomly fails that the first two names brought up in the dual-sport pro athlete discussion are Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders

And rightfully so, they were both phenomenal athletes and superstars of the 1990s in both football and baseball. While Jackson’s football career was cut short due to a hip injury suffered in January of 1991, Jackson continued as an MLB player through the 1994 season, though he was never quite the same after that hip injury he suffered on the football field.

Deion Sanders is still the only athlete to play in both a Super Bowl and a World Series. That accomplishment may likely never again be equaled by any other athlete. With so much specialization starting at such a young age with athletes these days, this is a feat that will likely go unparalleled for decades. 

There is another pro athlete from the same era that seems to have been forgotten by many. He even played on the same NFL team as Sanders. Brian Jordan. Jordan went the opposite route of Sanders though choosing to focus on his MLB career over the NFL. You won’t find many people who fault him for that decision.

Jordan stood to make far more money playing baseball and he was likely going to end up being a better major league player than an NFL player. Although, Jordan did show a lot of promise in his three seasons playing for the Atlanta Falcons. 

But since that era of dual-sport pro athletes, we haven’t seen many guys make it in the same way Jackson, Sanders, and even Jordan did. I’m not talking about guys who may have made it in the NFL but were also drafted by the MLB. Not Tim Tebow here either. No, we’re talking about those who touched the field in two pro sports, not including the minor leagues. That list is relatively long. 

One name that many people may not know of or have forgotten is Drew Henson. The former Michigan Wolverines Quarterback in the late 90s also had a brief stint in the MLB. Henson played in eight major league games for the New York Yankees from 2002-2003 then decided to jump back to football in 2004. While in the NFL, Henson spent the majority of his career as a backup for the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, and Detroit Lions, playing in the league from 2004-08.

But since the early 2000s, it seems like by the time kids get to high school, they are almost forced to choose one sport to truly focus on and specialize in. Now, this isn’t to say that kids all over the country are only playing one sports year around. What I’m saying is that it feels like high school kids are being encouraged to pick one sport to focus on primarily while still being able to run track, play hoops, football or basketball as well, but to focus on one year around. 

Since things like travel ball [baseball] and AAU basketball began to rise in popularity in the mid-90s, this generation of children was pushed more toward a major focus on whichever sport they possessed the most potential. In AAU basketball, kids are playing for their high schools as well as other tournament teams. This has made it a year-round thing for these kids, almost like a job.

Since the millennial generation [born 1980-95ish] has come of age, we have seen less and less of the dual-sport pro athlete make their way into two professional sports leagues. All the specialization we’ve seen over the past 25 years has all but depleted the prospects of fans ever seeing another dual-sport athlete among the major pro leagues in the United States.

We may never see another NFL star that also moonlights as an outfielder in the MLB. Never again will we be able to watch an athlete play at the highest level of football on a Sunday afternoon, then after that game, flies over 1,100 miles to Pittsburgh to play in a National League Championship game that very same night. Specialization of sport at an early age has likely robbed fans of ever witnessing this type of feat ever again. 

When asking those who study this art of specialization in sports, many will tell that not only is it a bad idea, but there isn’t any empirical data to justify forcing a child to focus solely on one sport. No data shows that specialization gives an advantage over others in becoming an elite athlete. 

That is according to Dr. David Bubis of UCHealth Primary Care – Lone Tree, who has seen many sports medicine patients over the years. 

“One of the things parents ask me is how will their kid get a college scholarship if they’re not participating in or practicing one sport,” Dr. Bubis said. “I tell them that there’s a lot of different data to support that early sports specialization could be harmful and there’s no evidence that it’s beneficial in becoming an elite athlete.” – UCHealth.org

Even with this kind of endorsement against the art of specialization, it has become such a big industry, the likelihood of things going back in the opposite direction is highly unlikely at this point. Too many people with too much of an investment in the specialization of sport have too much riding on keeping this money train rolling along. So, the end of specialization seems to be nowhere in sight. 

Add to that the amount of money attached to pro sports in America. The money is so great among the top three pro leagues in America [NFL, NBA, MLB] that teams today would just tell players to pick a sport as we have seen in recent years.

NFL teams are not going to allow a player on their payroll making $10 million a year to pull double duty as an MLB player. The risk of injury is far too great for it to happen in a different sport. Therefore, pro sports contracts have specific clauses in them that bar players from participating in certain extracurricular activities outside of their sport. 

So with that, it looks like the era witnessed in the 90s has been relegated to the archive room. Even if we never see a true dual sports athlete again, we do have the memories, and of course, Youtube and Google to help us relive those memorable moments of times past. 

Criss Partee

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