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Bo Knows... About Kids

Bo Jackson is the undisputed dual-sports star of our times. Heisman trophy winner in football, All-Star baseball MVP, he broke his hip at age 28, then came back for two more seasons with the White Sox and California. In 1995 he helped found the HealthSouth Sports Medicine Council and its "Go For It!" Roadshow, which tours the country to instill "positive lifestyle messages" in children. Bo also heads up his own sports management company and is marketing the Betterbar-"the better-tasting protein bar." Dadmag caught up with Bo last month at his Chicago suburban home where he lives with his wife, a psychologist. and three kids, age 9, 11 and 13. He graciously cooked us dinner-steaks on the barbecue, seasoned baked potatoes and sauteed spinach (" a secret family recipe") and plied us with Betterbars. You need energy to keep up with Bo.

Dadmag: Tell us about the roadshow.

Bo: First off, this isn't the President's Council on Fitness where you've got an athlete who appears once every four years in front of the white house and shows kids how to touch their toes and do jumping jacks. We've been doing this five years. We take four eighteen-wheelers and tour the country like a traveling band, like Garth Brooks. We teach kids to be champions, whether it's on the field or in the classroom. It's my way of giving something back to the community. We teach kids to stay off drugs, to eat right and stay fit. To stay in the classroom and respect their elders.

Dadmag: What was your dad like?

Bo: I had a father but I never had a dad. Meaning my parents were never married. He lived across town with his family. Up until I was eleven I thought having a dad meant a man who came by every month and left twenty bucks. My mother was my mother and father. I missed out. That haunted me all the way up to pro sports. Here was Bo Jackson, all-star baseball player, football player, top of the world in my profession. But I was envious of my teammates, because they'd fly in their dad to have beers in the locker room after games. In all other aspects my teammates envied me for my athletic ability. But for a dad I would have traded all that in. Just like that.

Dadmag: How do you bring up your own kids?

Bo: I run a tight ship. I give my kids enough rope to be their own person, but they've got to stay within boundaries. You're expected to carry yourself a certain way in school, out with a friend, around brothers or sisters. That's the bottom line. In this family we will not have anyone lying, stealing, fighting or disobeying. My kids are in catholic school and I've had the nuns tell me, "We don't know what you do but your kids are the most polite we've ever seen." It's always, Yes, ma'am, no, ma'am, may I, please? There are kids in that school whose parents are CEO's, who are brain surgeons, and they've got some of the rottenest kids you'd ever want to meet.

Dadmag: What's the problem?

Bo: Parents aren't paying enough attention. Parents at Columbine didn't know their kids were building bombs down in the basement? All you got to do is check on your kids. Don't be afraid to look in your kids' room. Don't be afraid to look in their drawers. In my house you don't close your door and say, Keep out. Parents have got to take the initiative. They've got to stay in touch. They've got to spend time with their children. That's where this country is losing its kids.

Dadmag: Is it all the parents' fault?

Bo: Parents in this country don't have the authority to punish their kids as they see fit. Washington has stepped into our homes and said you can't reprimand your child. So kids are smart, they know if you spank them they can get on the phone and call the police. I can only tell you how I raise my kids. The first time one of my kids says, "No, I won't go to bed," you drop your voice five octaves lower. You look in their eye. You don't say, "You need to put that down" or "You shouldn't do that." If I was that kid I wouldn't obey either. It all starts when kids are this little, when they're in pampers. You instill the value that saying "No" is not something you say to mom or dad. You teach them respect. In my whole life I've only had to spank my kids once. Of course in this day and age there's privileges you can revoke. You unplug the tv, take the cord off the videogame, unhook the phone. That works better than a beating!

Dadmag: How do you protect them from negative influences and role models? Do you care what your kids see on TV and in movies?

Bo: The only movies they're allowed to watch are PG-13. They've got cable, HBO and Showtime in their room, but they don't watch it. They watch Nickelodian and the cartoon channel. As for role models, all my life I've kept a squeaky clean image. In Hollywood I've refused to play a pimp, a drughead or a person who degrades women. That's why I don't get a lot of parts. (Laughs) I refuse to take part in a role such as that. But it doesn't bother me. I'm not in that business to pay my bills.

Dadmag: Do you encourage your kids to participate in sports?

Bo: I never push my kids toward sports. I tell them, you want to participate in sports? You've got my blessing. But you bring home anything less than a "B" and you're off the team. Right now only my daughter is actively involved in sports. She's a gymnast. In fact she just won the floor vault competition at a meet downtown.

Dadmag: Do you worry about your kids getting hurt?

Bo: All sports are risky. You can tear up your knee just as bad playing volleyball as playing football. That's just part of the game. There was one time three of us were all home in casts. I was recovering from hip surgery. My daughter, who was three years old, got her leg caught in the recliner where I'd propped my cast. She jumped and sprained her leg. She got a cast. My middle son jumped off the top bunk and sprained his ankle. He got a cast. I know athletes who slipped in the bathtub and busted up their knee. You can run on the beach and step on a buried sand pail. I had a friend who did that and could barely walk.

Dadmag: Are you and your kids close?

Bo: Very very close. And again, it's all about spending time with your kids. I ask my kids if they want to play golf, go fishing, work on my cars. Sometimes they say yes, sometimes they say no. Sometimes I make them go. You've got to make that effort. And it pays off. I tell them, don't ever be ashamed to hug your mom or dad. Don't ever be ashamed to kiss them in front of everybody. We drop them off at school and get out of the car and kiss. Their friends go, "You still hug your mom?" Yes, they do.

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