Let’s Define Failure

By Eric Zanzucchi (@ericzanzucchi)

I watched part of this Bo Jackson documentary on ESPN that highlighted his career. I knew he played football and baseball professionally and about the “Bo Knows” ad campaign, but not much else. I learned that he had to have his hip replaced because of a football injury that essentially ended his career.

The end of the film paints it as a ‘what could have been’ story and they even edited in a clip of Bo Jackson saying something to the effect of “[I have trouble watching NFL games]”. It’s just hard for me to accept Jackson’s career as a failure. He ended up being the only person to be an all-star in both sports. The expectation that he would be a literal combination of Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Sanders is unrealistic. The fact that he was as close to that as he was is amazing. People do this all the time with contemporary athletes. A lot of people considered Lebron James to be a failure until last year because he hadn’t won a championship, despite that fact that he had won multiple MVP awards and was universally considered to be the best player in basketball. He too can never exceed the standard set for him because the standard is irrationally high.

But back to Jackson he had bad luck to suffer a career ending injury, but don’t forget that he won the genetic lottery to ever be in a position to play professional sports. By having a nine year baseball career and four year football career Jackson was able to live a life that most people can only dream of. He got travel, meet people he would otherwise never meet, and was paid very lucratively. If you were to measure his career success to that of the average American he had a well above average career. Through that lens it’s impossible for me to view his career as a failure.