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Big Hurt, Bo reunited for historic weekend

CHICAGO -- Frank Thomas had a decision to make as a young talented athlete.

Pursue a career in football or move to the diamond for baseball?

The owner of a .301 career average and 521 homers over 19 years, and a case to be part of the 2014 Hall of Fame class, appears to have made the right decision after playing both sports at Auburn.

"It wasn't a popular choice," Thomas said. "Back then, football and basketball still were big in the inner-city. The Boys Club got me involved with baseball.

"We had whiffle ball tourneys. I was a power hitter in whiffle ball, so I decided to play Little League and it all worked out."

Thomas spoke of this baseball choice Saturday morning, before presenting Bo Jackson as the Beacon of Life winner at the Beacon Awards in downtown Chicago as part of this weekend's Civil Rights Game festivities. Giving this award to Jackson meant quite a bit to Thomas, who listed one of the greatest athletes in sports history as a strong influence on his career.

"Growing up down south, really close to Auburn, I got to hear the Bo Jackson stories weekly," Thomas said. "Newspapers, cameras, they were there, and I was 40 minutes away from there.

"Daily about the man, like he was the next coming, and he was. I got to see him in high school. Just an amazing athlete. Then to become a teammate later in baseball, it really made my life and career."

Serving as a presenter was not the only moment of pride Saturday for Thomas, as he was thrilled to recognize those African-American players who came before him. Thomas pointed to a scene from the Jackie Robinson movie, 42, when the character playing opposing manager Ben Chapman objected to Robinson's presence and Robinson chose to peacefully walk away from the harsh comments.

"I know I never could have took that," Thomas said. "We are light years ahead of that now because of these men who paved the way: Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron. It's night and day.

"Racism is part of life period. We all have encountered it, especially if you are a big star. You hear things off the cuff people think are funny. It is what it is. Deal with it and keep life moving. Life is too short to fall back."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin.
Read More: Chicago White Sox, Bo Jackson, Frank Thomas