Russell Wilson: the next two-sport athlete?

By: Eric Dowdall

russell-wilson2Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is entering rarely chartered waters with his foray into Major League Baseball (MLB). The recently crowned Super Bowl champion will be attending spring training for the Texas Rangers in the coming weeks, generating huge media buzz surrounding the new star. However, it appears that in all likelihood he will not see any game action, nor any plate appearances, and that his visit will be more for motivational purposes than anything.

This should come as no surprise to anyone, as there is no way the Seahawks would allow their franchise player to risk his future. This brings to light the true reality of the situation, which is that the days of the true two-sport athlete are over; in the professional ranks anyway.

Gone are the days of Deion Sanders or Bo Jackson, when an athlete could play multiple sports at the professional level simultaneously. With the money teams invest in their star players, it is simply not realistic that an athlete can spend his off-season or time off playing another sport professionally.

However, this was not always the case. As mentioned, Sanders and Jackson are probably the two most well known multi-sport athletes in today’s day and age, but they were not alone.

One of the first great two-sport athletes was Gene Conley. A pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, Conley was an All-Star four different times while winning the World Series in 1957. After turning his attention to the NBA, Conley won three NBA Championships with the Celtics, becoming the first (and to this day only) athlete to ever win championships in two different “Big Four” sports leagues.

Years after Conley, the two-sport athlete would make a resurgence in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Charlie Ward, an 11-year point guard in the NBA, won the Heisman Trophy in 1993. Brian Jordan became one of the few men ever to make an All-Star game in two separate sports (MLB and NFL).

Yet the stories of Jackson and Sanders are usually the two people think of when it comes to multi-sport athletes. Jackson, named the greatest athlete ever by ESPN, was a Heisman winner as well. He was a first-overall pick in the NFL, yet when injuries derailed him he still managed to win an All-Star game MVP in the MLB. Sanders on the other hand, did not enjoy the same success Jackson did in baseball, yet he is known as one of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history. He also remains the only athlete to compete in two professional sporting events in a 24-hour period.

While Wilson (who was drafted by the Colorado Rockies) would love to add his name to this list someday, the reality remains that is nothing more than a dream. The amount of dedication and time it takes to excel at one sport (let alone two) make it a seemingly impossible task to achieve.

Despite this harsh reality, professional athletes constantly seek challenges, which means this issue may truly never die. It appears current Heisman winner Jameis Winston of Florida State is on the same path as Wilson, with his staring role on both the football and baseball teams.

Wilson and Winston would be wise not to get their hopes up, however – the days of the two-sport athlete are over.

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