Bo Jackson takes Bears' Tommie Harris under wing
Bo Jackson takes Bears' Tommie Harris under wing
Mentoring relationship has taught the Bears defensive tackle to relax, keep work problems separate from family life
At Bo Jackson's annual golf tournament last June at Old Oak Country Club in Homer Glen, Tommie Harris hit drives off the practice tee that endangered worms and occasionally himself.
"He couldn't get the ball in the air, but if he hit it good it would boomerang and come back and almost hit him in the back of the head,'' said Jackson, 47, the former football and baseball star who spent two seasons with the White Sox. "Tommie was going to take lessons. I said I'm going to teach you something in four to five minutes that somebody you're paying all that money to won't teach you because if he does, then he doesn't need to take your money.''
In what was the beginning of a mentoring relationship that has helped the Bears defensive tackle keep his attitude on course long after he left the fairway, Jackson simply advised Harris to loosen his grip. Relax. Easy does it.
It mirrored the approach Jackson encouraged in Harris once he returned to chasing quarterbacks instead of a little white ball. Talk about a momentum swing.
Pow! He hit the ball in the trees about 250 yards away and looked at me with eyes as big as a coffee cup and said, 'How the heck did I do that?' '' Jackson said. "We kind of clicked on a number of things after that.''
Bo knows Tommie.
Jackson remains heavily involved in local development, running Bo Jackson Elite Sports in Lockport and moving forward with plans for a second all-sports facility in Crown Point, Ind. But little has enriched Jackson more lately than investing in the life of a professional athlete whose fun-loving yet introspective personality reminds him of his own.
To hear Jackson, it was easier to tackle him back in the day than get his cell-phone number. But before leaving the golf course that day, it was the last thing Jackson gave Harris — following the advice.
"I reminded Tommie people can say whatever they want about me, but before I let any criticism get to me, that stadium will rust and crumble,'' Jackson said. "I told him, 'Everybody that walks this planet will have speed bumps put in their road of life. How you slow down to handle yourself will determine how successful you will get over those speed bumps.' What's going on right now is just a speed bump in the road of Tommie Harris' life.''
In a tough season that has included getting benched and not dressing for the Packers game, Harris has relied heavily on his newfound rapport with Jackson.
Harris has made his presence felt more lately in a reserve role, but it pales to what the Bears expected from a three-time Pro Bowl player making roughly $4.25 million this year. Still, unlike past years, Harris has shown improved maturity by practicing more like a guy with something to prove than a reason to pout.
During a reflective moment recently, Harris revealed that he felt better equipped to cope with any professional struggles thanks to Jackson's personal touch.
"Besides Reggie White, I'd say I look up to Bo and listen to what he has to say as much as anybody I ever have,'' said Harris, who connected with White before the Hall of Famer passed away in 2004. "Bo's such a cool, positive guy.''
That was the message Harris came away with when the two discussed Harris' demotion.
"He was down in the dumps and I didn't tell him anything I wouldn't tell my 24-year-old son,'' Jackson said. "I just told him he needs to keep his head up, go to work, take care of business and leave work at work. And when you go home you become Daddy and husband and a family man. Don't ever mix the two together because then the whole house will fall down on you.''
When Jackson played for the Royals, he benefited from similar direction from a sports Samaritan. The late Buck O'Neil, a Negro League legend, reached out to Jackson during a tough stretch. It's one of the relationships Jackson cherishes most from his dual-sports career.
"He was always filling my head with important things and I'm just trying to pass that knowledge on to a younger guy because somebody was nice enough to pass it along to me,'' Jackson said. "To keep that cycle going, so somewhere down the road Tommie Harris can mentor some young kid that looks up to him.''
Passing along that example is all Jackson seeks in return. He has no ties to the Bears and nothing to gain or lose if Harris succeeds. That alone separates Jackson from many who have told Harris mostly what he wants to hear during his Bears tenure.
Jackson tells him what he needs to hear.
"He needs somebody outside his Bears family he can sit down and talk to about life, so I said if you want to get away and go fishing or bird hunting, I'll come and get you and we'll get in my pickup and go,'' Jackson said. "I make a rule. If you don't ask me questions about my job I won't ask you questions about yours. We get on fine.''
Bo knows balance. How refreshing he's willing to share that knowledge with someone still eager to learn