NAPERVILLE, ILL. — Yes, Bo Jackson knows football and baseball. The world knows this thanks to his performance on the field and Nike’s entertaining advertising campaign in 1989 and 1990. Mr. Jackson, who starred as a running back for the Oakland Raiders and an outfielder for the Kansas City Royals in the 1980s and 1990s, was hailed as the “Greatest Athlete of All Time” by ESPN. But few know that Bo knows beef, pork and poultry, too.
Vincent Edward “Bo” Jackson is currently chief executive officer of VEJ Holdings, L.L.C. Through its burgeoning food division, Bo’s 34 Signature Foods, the company is partnering with several meat protein providers to exclusively market a variety of products.
In June, VEJ Holdings entered into a partnership with beef supplier Two Rivers to launch Bo Jackson’s 34 Reserve, a line featuring ribeyes, striploins, tenderloins and sirloin cuts of beef. In May, Mr. Jackson launched an initiative with ground beef purveyor Schweid & Sons to offer Bo’s Burgers. Mr. Jackson also has agreements with Smithfield Foods and Sanderson Farms to market pork and poultry products.
Mr. Jackson doesn’t own and operate a processing plant and admits he doesn’t know processing like processors do. But before he partners with a company like Two Rivers, Bo does his due diligence. He studies the company and its nuances like a football playbook.
The last thing Mr. Jackson wants is for someone to eat a steak with his name on it and not like it.
“God forbid that,” he said. “In this industry and every business entity I’m involved in, it’s all about quality.”
When Mr. Jackson talks about “quality” — an overused word in the food industry if there is one — he does so with a sense of urgency; it is not just a buzzword to him.
“The quality of a product will sell itself 10 times more than it would by having a broken-down jock’s name behind it like Bo Jackson,” he said.
Speaking of his name, when Mr. Jackson goes on sales calls, he tells potential customers not to purchase his products because of his name.
“Let your palate make that decision for you,” he tells them. “I can sit here and talk about how good the proteins are from Two Rivers until I’m blue in the face. That’s why I tell people: Let’s go grill a steak, and I’ll let you see the difference.”
Mr. Jackson does not put his name on products just to make a buck; he is diligent in his selection.
“If you knew the amount of items that people have asked me to put my name behind, it would blow you away,” he said.
Many people may not know it, but Mr. Jackson was a foodie long before he was a jock. When he was a child, he studied his mother Florence’s cooking methods willingly and intently as she prepared family meals for her 10 children.
“The first thing I learned to cook in my cast-iron skillet was buttermilk cornbread,” he said.
The best chef Mr. Jackson said he ever met was his mother, who raised her children as a single mother.
“When I go out to eat, I compare that food to the food my mom cooked when I was kid,” Mr. Jackson said.
He was a foodie, but he was also a firecracker. While growing up in Bessemer, Ala., Mr. Jackson had a propensity for getting into trouble. His siblings nicknamed him the “Wild Boar Hog.” Faced with the possibility of going to reform school, Mr. Jackson turned to sports where he excelled. Soon, the Boar nickname was shortened to “Bo.”
“I say Bo Jackson was good for sports, but sports were great for Bo Jackson,” he said. “But now I have turned my attention to something that has been with me longer than sports, which is food.”
When he starred in football at Auburn University, where he won the Heisman Trophy, Mr. Jackson and other players knew what was waiting if they won on Saturday: a Wednesday night victory meal, consisting of a New York strip steak, lobster and shrimp. That was a motivator, as much as Mr. Jackson getting into the end zone on game day was.
“Mainly, it was about the steaks,” he said. “College kids don’t get to eat a lot of steak.”
With his partnerships and his products, Mr. Jackson, who was well known for his work ethic as an athlete, said his goal is simply to set his products apart from the competition.
“It’s no different than when I was competing in sports in high school, college and the pros,” he said. “When I walked out on the field, I had to make sure that everybody knew that they were in for a long, hard day — period.”
Mr. Jackson was a physical specimen, standing 6’1” and weighing 225 lbs, during his athletic prime. While he looks like he could still suit up for the gridiron, he chuckles when told this.
“The other day I bent down to pick up a sock to put it in the dirty clothes hamper, and I pulled a muscle,” he said. “It’s like I’m an aged piece of meat. I’m a whole lot tender than I was 30 years ago.”