Brian Bosworth grew up in Oklahoma and Texas. Quiet but mischievous as a young boy, no different than most, he aspired to play college football for the Oklahoma Sooners. Clearly a standout athlete in high school, yet self-doubting, Bosworth was recruited by legendary coach Barry Switzer, who in the 80s was the head coach of the Sooners. Bosworth, like so many high school athletes, admired Switzer and quickly accepted the offer. And it was while playing at Oklahoma when everything changed for Bosworth, including his personality.
Brian Bosworth quickly became one of the best college linebackers of all time. And, according to Tony Casillas, his teammate at Oklahoma, Bosworth arguably became one of the biggest jerks who ever played the game.
However, despite losing his sense of reality as he became somewhat of a demagogue in Oklahoma, Bosworth transformed into a master of creating the success and attention he desired.
Bosworth’s Alter Ego
To Sooner fans, Bosworth was a hero; but to many others he was a superhuman villain who destroyed opposing quarterbacks with his punishing hits and alleged steroid abuse. Never a quiet loser, and always a boisterous victor, Bosworth wrote the playbook of personal branding for professional athletes. In fact, his personal branding was so unique and ahead of its time that the media stopped calling him Brian Bosworth. He would be known by the world simply as ‘The Boz’.
Bosworth had the classic ego of an athlete turned demagogue by the media – including speaking of himself in the third person, a la Terrell Davis, Mike Tyson and other mollycoddled superstars.
He embraced the limelight, and just like an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, Bosworth was always looking to disrupt things on and off the field. He was insistent on changing the paradigm for collegiate athletes. With his larger than life personality that blossomed at Oklahoma, Bosworth brought a media craze unlike anything ever seen before to a sport for amateurs. Naturally, this spring-boarded Bosworth into the pros.
Brian Bosworth in the NFL
In a PR stunt, Bosworth sent personal letters to almost every NFL team declaring that he did not want to play for them. Nevertheless, he was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks and became the highest paid rookie of all time (in the 1980s).
It was while playing for the Seahawks that Bosworth pulled off the greatest entrepreneurial tactic ever achieved by a professional athlete…
As a rookie for the Seahawks, Brian Bosworth began publicly trash talking Broncos quarterback John Elway in the days leading up to their matchup. Needless to say, Broncos fans developed a venomous disdain for The Boz. Prior to the game, T-shirts that read “BAN THE BOZ” went on sale for $15 in Denver. Approximately 10,000 Broncos fans bought the shirts and wore them to the game. Little did the fans know that Bosworth’s company had manufactured the shirts – sending the proceeds straight into his bank account…
Bosworth was the first pro football player who understood the value of ‘look at me’ and establishing a personal brand. From the way he cut his hair to his banter with reporters, Bosworth had the sports world hanging off his every move. He created a persona that was a marketer’s dream.
He established “the latitude to leverage his brand in a way that brought him value beyond the football field” stated Spencer Tillman, Bosworth’s former teammate.
Things did not end well as a pro athlete for Bosworth, however. His professional career lasted only two seasons as a result of a terrible shoulder injury. Personally, his fall from grace was painful to watch. But along his journey to the pros, Bosworth disrupted the business of college sports, and pioneered personal branding for athletes, which paved the way for them to become celebrities.