What ever happened to the two-sport athlete?

I miss the early Nineties.

I miss the Sundays and the breathless SportsCenter reports when Deion Sanders would play in an Atlanta Falcons game, get on a plane and make it to Pittsburgh in time for a Braves playoff game that evening. I still wonder how he did it. I miss Bo Jackson and the “Bo Knows” Nike commercials about how the Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Raiders star could seemingly do everything. I even miss the images of Michael Jordan struggling at Double-A baseball, and with all this in mind, I have to ask:

Whatever happened to the two-sport athlete?

Fifteen or twenty years ago, this kind of thing seemed fairly common, particularly in baseball, but somewhere in the interim, the idea of playing more than one sport at a time professionally has all but vanished. While we occasionally hear stories of star athletes excelling at different sports as amateurs, whether it’s LeBron James tearing it up in high school football or Kobe Bryant playing soccer in Italy as a boy or Donovan McNabb coming off the bench for Syracuse in the 1996 Final Four, multimillionaire dual threats like Deion and Bo seem to be a thing of the past. And that’s unfortunate.

I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if other athletes got scared watching Bo break his hip in a 1991 Raiders playoff game, which ended his football career and crippled his baseball abilities. Less than a year after Bo’s injury, Sanders’ backfield mate with the Falcons, Brian Jordan, walked away from football promise to focus on baseball. “I think about football,” Jordan told Ebony magazine in 1999, in the midst of what became a 15-year baseball career, “And then I think about the pain you feel on Mondays and thoughts about [playing] football quickly go away.”

I wonder if there was something written discretely into one of the recent Collective Bargaining Agreements that I missed, or some tacit understanding in the sports world that went unpublicized. Or maybe athletes started thinking differently after watching Michael Jordan leave basketball at the top of his game, hit .202 in place of a deserving prospect in Double-A baseball, and inspire a Sports Illustrated cover, “Bag it Michael.” Nobody wants to be that guy, even if Michael got the last laugh by returning to basketball, winning a few more championships and refusing to talk to SI for years thereafter

Whatever the case, there don’t seem to be many success stories about two-sport athletes anymore, just cautionary tales, such as Drew Henson: excellent as a quarterback at Michigan, not so good playing third base for the Yankees thereafter and then, surprisingly, no longer good at football either.

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