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Bo Jackson says he may have stuck to baseball had he known of concussion dangers

Former MLB and NFL star Bo Jackson watches Auburn and Clemson practice before a game earlier this month. (Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)

If retired football and baseball star Bo Jackson were to cut a Nike ad today, it might be a bit different.

Bo knows baseball.

Bo knows football.

Bo also knows the dangers of sustaining repeated concussions in football, so Bo’s decided not to play that sport anymore.

That’s pretty much what the Heisman Trophy winner said in an interview posted to Sports Illustrated’s MMQB on Friday.

“[I]f I’d have known back then what I know now, to be honest with you, I probably would have taken a different path,” he said. “I probably just would have played baseball.”

The 53-year-old, who managed to play for the Kansas City Royals and the Los Angeles Raiders simultaneously from 1987 to 1990, made the remark after being asked whether he’d let young kids play football now, given the new information available about the dangers of concussions. His answer was pretty definitive.

New poll shows Americans’ growing awareness about concussions in youth sports

“If I had young kids, to be honest, and if they came and said, ‘Dad, I want to play football,’ I’d smack them in the mouth,” he said. “No. No.”

Jackson isn’t the only former NFL player who said he would forbid his children from playing football. Nine-time Pro Bowler Harry Carson said he couldn’t “in good conscience” allow his grandson to play the game earlier this year. Former Jets and Ravens star Bart Scott also said he wouldn’t let his son play football.

“With what’s going on, I don’t know if it’s really worth it,” Scott said in 2012 (via NFL.com), referring to new information available about the long-term repercussions of concussions, including the degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

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The list goes on: Troy Aikman, Mike Ditka, Terry Bradshaw, Fran Tarkenton, Kurt Warner and Brett Favre have all expressed some level of discomfort with letting kids play the full-contact sport.

“It’s a violent sport, you know, and for two reasons, I don’t know if I would let him play,” Favre said in 2014. “The pressures to live up to what your dad had done, but more importantly, the damage that is done by playing. … [T]he cumulative effect [of concussions] is yet to be known, but it’s probably not great, not good.”

Wariness about the dangers of allowing kids to play football has spread to the general population, as well. A recent poll found that 79 percent of Americans believe children under the age of 14 shouldn’t play full-contact football. That number inverses when talking about the adult population, however. Eighty percent of those surveyed believe the game is appropriate for those aged 18 or older.

Basketball star LeBron James counts himself among that majority.

“Only basketball, baseball and soccer are allowed in my house,” James told ESPN.com in 2014. “We don’t want them to [football] in our household right now until they understand how physical and how demanding the game is. Then they can have their choice in high school, we’ll talk over it.”

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