Black Heroes of Gaming: Bo Jackson

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February is Black History Month, and to celebrate GamerTell is looking back at gaming’s most memorable Black characters. These heroes are a part of our pop culture fabric, and there is growing ethnic diversity among them. Video game heroes include space marines, wizards and hard-nosed police detectives. But one of gaming’s enduring legends is Bo Jackson, a real athlete immortalized by a popular sports title.

Vincent Edward “Bo” Jackson was an incredibly gifted athlete who rose to fame in football and baseball. In many ways, he was a video game hero come to life. Nike helped make him world famous with its “Bo Knows” campaign. Tecmo Super Bowl preserved his accomplishments in the digital realm for all time.

Though they may seem primitive to a generation raised on Madden NFL, Tecmo’s games were groundbreaking. They were among the first to offer real NFL teams, and were just pure fun. Sports games don’t usually have “bosses.” But Jackson was the closest thing. In another distinction ahead of its time, Tecmo Super Bowl distinguished between speedy running backs and powerful ones. With a speedster, you wanted to move around defenders. A power back was better served to run right at them. In real life, Jackson was as strong as he was fast. Thus video game Bo could do anything he wanted on the field, just as the actual player seemed able to.

Fights in college dorm rooms started over which person would get to use the Oakland Raiders and Bo Jackson. If you  beat a player armed with the best athlete in video game history, you knew you had earned the victory. Sadly, a hip injury ended the real Bo Jackson’s career. ESPN’s acclaimed 30 for 30 documentary series remembered his impact on sports and sports marketing. It even mentioned his legendary Tecmo Super Bowl appearance.

The sports great admitted he owns a copy as part of his memorabilia, but has never actually played it. He seems happy that it brings a smile to people’s faces years after his playing days ended.

A retro T-shirt now available that declares “Bo Knows Tecmo.” EA put Jackson in its NFL Street game as a character, acknowledging his eternal mark on gaming history. Somewhere right now, maybe on a Nintendo emulator, Bo is still running circles around helpless opponents.

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