Since the 1960s, there have been but two players that have played two of the four major American professional sports (baseball, football, basketball, hockey) at the same time: Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders. Both of whom are considered to be two of the greatest athletes ever. Since then, there have been a number of players who have attempted careers in more than one sport, and some have had success in one or both. However, no one in the modern era besides Jackson and Sanders has been able to simultaneously play two professional sports at a high level.
Why? Perhaps it’s because of money. Players these days are paid significantly more than ever before, even when inflation is accounted for. Teams are making much more significant investments in players, and they don’t want to pay millions of dollars for a player who is splitting his time between two sports. Not to mention, the risk of getting injured in the other sport is also daunting. Sports culture today has also changed so that, even at a high-school level, multi-sport athletes are frowned upon. Scouts and coaches are looking for athletes that are extremely specialized and best fit for one sport only, meaning that players are less apt to work hard to become extraordinary at multiple sports. Also, today, the physical, mental, and emotional demands of playing professional sports are higher than ever. Players are expected to commit their entire lives to their team and prioritize sports over family, mental health, and just about everything else. The lifestyle of the dual-sport athlete today would require so much physical and mental strength that it seems foolish to believe it is sustainable.
However, I believe that a lot of these obstacles are arbitrary and are based on cultural expectations that can easily be defied. I also believe that there are certainly athletes that are physically capable of playing two sports at once, regardless of how small that handful may be. The emergence of the next great dual-sport athlete is simply a question of fit. What current pro athlete has all of the traits, both physical and personality, to be able to pull off this rare, extraordinary feat? To answer this question, we must first decide what these qualifications are. To do so, I will look at the traits of Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders that allowed them to successfully play two professional sports at once and see what significant traits the two had in common. Then, I will use those decided-upon qualifications and find the one active player currently playing one of the four major sports that best fits the role of the dual-superstar.
Let us decide what it was about Jackson and Sanders that allowed them to be consistent, superb players in two sports at once. The most obvious trait the two have in common is that the two sports they played simultaneously were football and baseball. This makes sense both physically, as baseball is the least physically demanding of the four major sports while football has the fewest number of games, as well as logistically, as their seasons conflict the least of the four sports. Therefore, our first qualification is that the next two-sport athlete will play in the NFL and MLB.
The player must also be an established star at their respective position in the NFL, as were Sanders and Jackson. Only players with the natural, extraordinary talent of our two dual-sport athletes can show up to a football game after playing baseball all week and play at a high level. The relatively average football player relies a lot more on preparedness, scheming, and good matchups to do their jobs effectively. In order for our candidate to be effective without those advantages, they have to be able to make up for it in pure talent.
The player also has to be physically fit enough to play a position in both the NFL and MLB. As a dual-sport athlete, we can expect that their greatest trait in both sports will be their pure physical fitness, as was the case with Sanders and Jackson. Supreme physical fitness will also give this player the physical endurance required to play two sports at once. Therefore, I expect our candidate to be someone who is extremely fit and plays positions in both the NFL and potentially MLB that would allow them to best take advantage of their fitness.
The next trait Sanders and Jackson have in common is that they both played skill positions in the NFL, particularly skill positions that did not require them to orchestrate the game plan. As a cornerback, Deion Sanders’ job every game was to either guard the best wide receiver on the other team, or his team would rotate zones away from Sanders and “leave him on an island.” For Jackson, as a running back, it was simple: get as many yards possible when given the ball. Therefore, it seems like this feat is only feasible for somebody who can afford to miss football practice all week and just show up for the game on Sunday. I argue that this disqualifies quarterbacks and linebackers, who both absolutely must be involved in practice and aware of the game plan for their team to function.
In terms of personality, there are a few characteristics this player will need to have in order to pull off this feat. First, this player needs to be willing to take a pay cut in both sports. As I said earlier, the financial investments that teams put into their stars these days are too massive to allow their players to lose focus and risk getting injured playing another sport. The only way this could be allowed is if the player would be content with sacrificing a good chunk of their potential pay in order to be able to play two sports.
This player will also need to have the emotional and mental toughness to be able to play two professional sports at once. The candidate will have to have demonstrated strong mental toughness and endurance in their college and/or professional career thus far. Lastly, this guy will need to be very confident in himself. A big reason Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson could be superstar dual-athletes is that they knew how gifted they were, and they believed they could perform at a high level in both sports. Our guy has to be aware of his physical ability and willing to take on this challenge.
So, the traits our candidate must have are:
- Currently a football star with baseball potential
- Plays either running back, wide receiver, cornerback, or safety
- Extremely physically fit
- Willing to take a pay cut
- Physically, mentally, and emotionally tough
There are a number of notable football-baseball dual-prospects that I looked into. Many of these prospects were quarterbacks with baseball experience (Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston, Tom Brady), but as I argued prior, I don’t think it would be possible for a quarterback to play baseball at the same time. Former NFL Wide Receiver Eric Decker would have made a strong candidate, but he retired from professional football this past year after being released by the Patriots prior to the season. Carolina Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson was considered, but his position is also one that requires involvement in game planning. Thompson also batted 0-39 with 37 strikeouts in his one season with the Boston Red Sox rookie team, so I don’t think he has the baseball talent to make it in MLB.
Some prospects from the professional baseball side were also considered. Free Agent outfielder Matt Szczur was a stud running back and return man for Villanova football. However, he suffered a number of football-related injuries in his time at college that prevented me from believing he had the physical endurance to play both sports at once. Yankees outfielder Giancarlo Stanton was also considered. He was recruited to play tight end at the University of Southern California out of high school but decided to enter the MLB draft instead. However, I did not choose Stanton due to his lack of college football experience, his strong commitment to MLB, and his lack of willingness to take a pay cut in MLB (he is currently signed onto a 13-year, $325 million contract). No other baseball prospects were considered as heavily as these two.
Ultimately, after sifting through all the football-baseball dual-prospects, skill-position football players with baseball experience, and baseball players with football experience, reading articles with goals similar to this one, and searching for the player who best fits all of my requirements, my candidate for the next star, dual-sport athlete is Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Golden Tate.
For starters, Golden Tate is recognized as an MLB-level talent. He was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of high school in the 42nd round. He played baseball at the University of Notre Dame for two seasons, and he finished his Sophomore season with 45 runs and a batting average of .329. He was then drafted to MLB again by the San Francisco Giants in the 50th round. Tate was also drafted as an outfielder – the same position played by Sanders and Jackson.
Tate also has had a very successful career in the NFL. Tate won Super Bowl XLVIII with the Seattle Seahawks, and he was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2014. According to Pro Football Reference, in his 5 seasons with the Detroit Lions (2014-2018), Tate averaged 66.8 receiving yards per game and scored 22 touchdowns. He was recently traded to the Eagles, where he is still finding his role and working on his chemistry with both quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Nick Foles.
Golden Tate is also a very physically fit athlete. Tate recorded a 4.42-second 40-yard dash and a 120.0-inch broad jump at the NFL combine. While these are not exceptional, it proves Tate to be a capable athlete compared to the rest of the league. He has great quickness that allows him to get open on routes, and he also has enough downfield speed to beat defenders deep.
Tate is also in a transitional phase in his football career. He is on an expiring contract, and he is having a little bit of a down year due to his trade to the Eagles. This off-season would be the perfect opportunity for Tate to explore his baseball career, and he could do so while remaining in the NFL. The proven receiver could take a pay cut and sign with a team that already has a superstar receiver. That way, Tate wouldn’t feel overly obliged to his NFL team and could work his way onto a professional baseball team while playing as a WR2 on a relatively cheap contract.
I also believe Tate has both the toughness and confidence to be able to pull this off. This year, Tate has shown his grit and determination. It would have been easy for him to fall off the map this season, as he was blindsided by his trading and he’s an established receiver struggling to find his place in a new system. However, on December 5th against the Washington Redskins, Tate broke out for 7 receptions, 85 yards, and a touchdown. Tate is clearly a competitor, and it seems to me like he has the dedication that would be required to pull off this feat. He’s also clearly confident in his own abilities as an athlete. A specific example of this is when he responded to trash talk from star Cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Tate said that he would “handle Ramsey” by himself and that Ramsey couldn’t, “match [his] quickness.” Tate is a hard-working, determined, and confident player.
Being a dual-sport athlete is a truly incredible feat, especially in today’s world. The sports industry has grown larger than ever before, and maybe at this point, it’s not feasible for an athlete to play two major sports at once. But, if anyone is going to pull it off, I think Golden Tate is the best candidate to attempt to do so. He’s got the proven talent, the athleticism, and the personality to make it work. As hard as it would be, I believe Golden Tate would have a better chance than anyone to achieve this amazing feat, and I, for one, would absolutely love to see this happen. It would be really entertaining to behold, as watching this happen would be to watch one of the most impressive athletic feats in the world.