30 years ago this week marked the anniversary of legendary pro athlete Deion Sanders accomplishing a feat that no other human in history has ever done; hitting both a home run in the MLB and scoring a touchdown in the NFL. Throughout sports history, there have been many multi-sport athletes competing in both major and minor league sports. Players that have won championships, broken records and become all-stars. These players include Sanders, as well as the NBA legend Michael Jordan, Raiders’ running back Bo Jackson, Boston Celtics’ shooting guard Danny Ainge and multi-sport athlete Jim Thorpe, just to name a few. However, this has become a much rarer occurrence today.
Sanders started his athletic career at an early age. After a highlight-filled high school athletic career, he attended Florida State University, where he went on to play football, baseball and run track. Sanders played 14 seasons in the NFL and nine in the MLB. He made his Major League Baseball debut May 31, 1989 after playing for the Yankees’ minor league team his rookie season.
Sanders’ football career was much more promising, as he was drafted fifth overall in the 1989 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons. Right from the start, he performed extremely well, scoring a touchdown on his second-ever punt return. Sanders developed his own brand throughout his years in the NFL and was notorious as the league’s top corner and demanded to be paid as such. Sanders ventured throughout the league, playing for five different franchises over his career and winning Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys. He had a career total of 53 interceptions and 18 touchdowns, with his touchdown total including his ability to be utilized on the offensive side of the ball as well. These accolades earned him an introduction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the 2011 class.
Sanders’ athletic career was nothing but extraordinary. The ability to play two pro sports is one that not many have, and to willingly play two sports on the same day is unique to him and fellow star Bo Jackson. Nowadays, with the amount of money that each athlete makes, it’s unlikely that we will see a situation like this again in such different major sports.
Athletes in today’s age work much harder to keep from injuring themselves. With all the training that is done, the time commitment to one sport is much higher now than before. Because of this, the time that it would take to remain competitive in two sports would take a toll on one’s body. With how much athletes are worth, teams and trainers are hesitant when it comes to players risking injury. Players must ask themselves if playing two sports is worth the increase in the risk of career-ending injuries.
There are two other players in recent history that have caught headlines for looking at both baseball and football: Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson and former Denver Broncos’ quarterback Tim Tebow. Wilson has played on and off in minor league baseball during the NFL off-season but has never sacrificed football for the sake of baseball. There was one point that he attended the Rangers’ training camp while playing football, but he thought better of this and reported back to Seattle.
Tebow’s situation was quite different; instead of balancing the two sports, he quit playing football to pursue his baseball career. He is currently playing on the New York Mets’ minor league team and hasn’t yet reached the level of major league.
Players that do play multiple professional sports have a lot to work for. At such a high level of competition, it is nearly impossible, especially long term. With sports getting more and more competitive with time, it is likely that we will see very few pro or even semi-pro level dual athletes in the future.