Russell Wilson’s Baseball Flirtation Raises Age-Old Question
In a recent interview with Bryant Gumbel on HBO’s Real Sports, Russell Wilson, the quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, expressed his ongoing desire to play both football and baseball eventually.
You never want to kill the dream of playing two sports. I would honestly play two sports.
When pressed by Gumbel about what’s holding him back, Wilson responded,
I don’t know. I may push the envelope a little bit one of these days.
This aspiration for Wilson is not merely a fantasy camp notion; he was selected as a 4th round draft pick by the Colorado Rockies, securing the 140th overall spot.
During his college years, he gained experience in professional baseball as a second baseman for various Rockies Class A affiliates in the summers of 2010 and ’11, albeit with batting averages of only .230 and .228, respectively.
In 2014, the Texas Rangers picked Wilson in the Rule 5 draft, allowing him to train with the team during spring training.
If Wilson were to consider a baseball career seriously, the potential and genuine opportunity are present.
Is it realistically feasible for a player to excel in multiple professional sports simultaneously in today’s athletic landscape?
The prevailing consensus, grounded in practicality, tends to lean towards “no,” given the absence of widespread examples.
However, this question doesn’t lend itself to a straightforward “yes” or “no” response; it hinges on the specifics of each case.
Undoubtedly, undertaking such a dual commitment would impose significant physical and mental strain on any athlete.
Yet, the pivotal determinant lies in the player’s respective roles in each sport.
Jameis Winston, the current frontrunner for the top pick in the NFL draft and a former standout quarterback at Florida State, also showcased his prowess in collegiate baseball at one of the nation’s premier programs.
Winston, known for his formidable fastball clocking in the low 90s, assumed the roles of a hard-throwing reliever and starting right fielder for the Seminoles.
As Winston’s football acclaim surged following his 2013 Heisman Trophy win, inquiries about his baseball aspirations were met with a resolute stance.
That’s part of my character because I don’t feel like I can play football without baseball. I don’t feel like I can play baseball without football.
Further, he expressed,
I want to be better than Bo Jackson, hopefully. Of course, I want to keep doing both. That’s my dream.
At the current juncture, Winston has prioritized his focus on football, recognizing its pivotal role in enhancing his draft prospects and garnering the trust of an NFL franchise.
He revealed to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King in February,
[Playing football and baseball] always has been my dream, but I’m just playing football right now.
Presently, that is.
It’s reasonable to ponder whether this stance is merely dictated by the calendar.
Any team selecting Winston will address any potential constraints or limitations regarding his participation in both sports within his rookie contract.
At this point, he appears to be saying all the appropriate sentiments regarding a singular athletic commitment.
Similarly, Russell Wilson once distanced himself from baseball at the onset of his football journey, notifying the Rockies before his senior football season that he would not be available for spring training during the NFL draft period.
However, with considerable success in the NFL, Wilson is now keeping the possibility open for a potential dual-sport career in the future.
Of course, this hinges on whether an organization would be amenable to allowing him two professional pursuits — and therein lies the challenge.
It’s been quite some time since a professional football player successfully juggled careers in both football and baseball.
We often reference the standout names Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, two of the most exceptional athletes in history.
It’s no coincidence that athletes of their caliber were able to achieve this feat, and it’s also noteworthy that their positions played a crucial role in this accomplishment.
Can He? Well…What Does He Play?
Dismissing outright the idea of contemporary athletes accomplishing a dual feat would be hasty.
It’s more enlightening to weigh past successes against the challenges a player would face today.
Bo Jackson‘s athletic prowess was truly extraordinary, a fact widely acknowledged.
What sets him apart is that he also operated as a running back in football—an assignment that defies easy replication in off-season training.
While you can engage in extensive weightlifting, navigate through agility drills, and practice ball-handling techniques, it’s impossible to fully mimic the experience of evading pursuers and reading openings amidst a dynamic mix of blockers and tacklers.
This is a role where the off-season primarily focuses on foundational fitness, with the fine-tuning reserved for team practices, ideally conducted at full intensity and in full gear.
Such practices typically don’t commence until training camp, and even then, live tackling is limited to a few preseason games.
Deion Sanders, the other celebrated example, excelled as a cover corner and was a special team nightmare as a returner.
Much like Ty Law was for the championship-winning Patriots teams, Sanders’ primary responsibility was shadowing the most formidable opponent.
However, like Ty, his involvement in other aspects of defensive play was likely less substantial.
Indeed, a cornerback can refine specific technical facets during the off-season. Still, most don’t engage in live, one-on-one coverage drills except during a few mandatory mini-camp sessions.
Players like Deion and Ty primarily focus on fine-tuning their bodies and conditioning during the offseason, with a relatively lower emphasis on mental preparation and intricate scheme involvement within their roles.
While not recommended, cornerback would likely fit the bill if there were a defensive position with the potential for an absentee off-season.
This doesn’t hold true for all positions. Linebackers and safeties, as well as tight ends and wide receivers on offense, face a substantial mental component during the off-season.
For quarterbacks, missing an offseason is simply inconceivable. No position in football carries more weight within the team and has the potential to accomplish as much in the off-season as the quarterback.
Crucially, the quarterback’s primary function involves throwing, a skill integral to baseball.
Asking a quarterback to expend significant effort on a second sport, potentially putting additional strain on his arm—his most valuable asset—for a different employer is a considerable demand.
I believe no prudent organization would endorse such an arrangement.
While hypothetical, if a football player were to excel in baseball solely as a designated hitter, it would be an ideal scenario.
This would allow them to engage in the second sport while minimizing additional leg stress.
Clearly, individuals possessing this unique combination of skills are scarce, as evidenced by the absence of such cases in professional sports.
Much like the Chris Borland situation, it ultimately boils down to personal choice.
If Wilson or Winston aspire to pursue a career in another sport or pursue whatever brings them fulfillment and joy, they should absolutely go for it.
However, they should also anticipate that the football organizations they are affiliated with will require a comparable part-time commitment from them, both in terms of time and financial investment.
Put simply, it’s unlikely they’ll find an NFL team willing to pay top dollar to a quarterback while allowing him to divide his attention and professional development with another sport.
While top compensation isn’t the primary objective for every player, if finding happiness in playing two sports aligns with their goals, they should follow that path.
Nevertheless, Russell Wilson should understand that expressing a desire to engage in another sport may lead to more cautious or potentially restrictive language in future contract negotiations.
As long as Wilson, Winston, or any other player acknowledges that a two-sport decision may carry consequences for their football career, it remains their prerogative to make that choice.
Similarly, it will be each organization’s prerogative to decide whether or not they’re willing to take on the associated risks of such a dual commitment.