CHICAGO -- Bo Jackson equated being surrounded by some of the greatest players in baseball history during the Civil Rights Game festivities to jumping into a pool of liquid gold.
Jackson, who was honored at U.S. Cellular Field on Saturday prior to the Civil Rights Game matchup between his former team, the White Sox, and the visiting Rangers, received recognition at the annual Major League Baseball Beacon Awards Luncheon earlier that day.
As the recipient of the Beacon of Life award, Jackson was lauded not only by a roomful of native Chicagoans and White Sox fans, but also by a population of baseball figures that could rightfully be described as jaw-dropping. Hank Aaron. Frank Robinson. Willie Horton. And on.
For Jackson, a two-sport star widely considered one of the greatest athletes in history, standing up as an honoree in front of those men was, to say the least, humbling.
"That's a gold mine of athletic history," he said. "To be a part of it, to consume, to be in the room with all that knowledge and experience, it's wonderful. Wow. It's like someone telling you, 'Hey, dive into that pool of gold, liquid gold,' and you come out and you're gold-plated.
"To be in that room with all of that experience, you can't do anything but come out of there smarter than when you came in, as far as baseball knowledge is concerned."
Jackson ranked the Beacon Award honor among the top two or three of his life, because his peers recognized him not for what he did as an athlete, but what he does away from the playing field. Jackson has spent most of his retirement years working with his self-created Give Me a Chance Foundation, which strives to give time, understanding, guidance and financial support to inner-city kids.
He wants kids who want to play baseball to have the opportunity, which is why after the bills are paid, 100 percent of what's left goes to the youngsters.
"Not only do I do it from the heart, but I do it because I hope the public will look at me as a role model," Jackson said.
Jackson, who played for the White Sox from 1991-93, was given the red-carpet treatment during the elaborate Civil Rights Game pregame ceremony. He was driven around the warning track from center field in a white convertible, waving to an enthusiastic fanbase who cheered him as he pulled in front of the White Sox dugout.
The video board showed tributes to both Jackson and Aretha Franklin, who earlier that day received the Beacon of Change award but was not in attendance due to health issues. Jackson then humbly addressed the crowd: "There are so many people who have done a whole lot more than I and have received this award."
Also recognized during the pregame ceremony was Sharon Robinson, the daughter of Jackie Robinson. Much of the weekend's events included remembering the elder Robinson's entry into Major League Baseball as its first African-American player. Sharon, who was just 7 years old when her father retired, is a wealth of historical knowledge.
Fittingly, the country is also celebrating this weekend the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, an event Sharon attended with her family. She was there for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, and she was also privileged to know King personally after he had joined forces with her dad to further civil rights.
"This 50th anniversary means a great deal to me," Sharon said. "Not only did it change America, but it changed my family."
Jackie retired from baseball in 1957 and soon after was working in corporate America as an executive with Chock full o'Nuts. But he had a deal with his boss that he'd be able to leave to participate in various civil rights movement activities when warranted. Robinson traveled around the country raising money for the NAACP, and he also held fundraisers at his home -- jazz concerts -- to help civil rights organizations as well as families of those who were killed during acts of violence.
The first guest at those jazz concerts was King.
"It was an unbelievable moment in our lives to see him at the March on Washington and then to see him up close and personal and see he was a warm and engaging person," Sharon said.
Robinson died before a Major League Baseball team hired its first black manager, but he spent the final years of his life tirelessly pressing the league to break down that barrier, as well. His last statement to baseball was, according to Sharon, "I'm glad we're celebrating the 25th anniversary [of his debut]. We might have broken this color barrier, but still, I'm looking out there and there are no black managers."
"He was still egging them on at the last moment," Sharon said. "That baseball has to continue to change. That America has to continue to change."
Odds are, all of these years later, he'd be pleased with the progress.