Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
I’m not sure if Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders realized the powder keg he is when he decided to make the leap from coaching at historically Black university Jackson State to coaching at historically white University of Colorado, but I’m sure he realized it pretty quickly. Sanders became an immediate talking point in all corners of the Black community. And it’s been quite fascinating. The opinions have ranged from appreciation for what he did while in Jackson, Mississippi, to believing that he’s a sellout for leaving the winning program he helped build to one of the worst in Division I football. You don’t have to dig too deep to glean the “white man’s ice is colder” undertones. Whatever his motivations (and whether or not they even matter) has got the timeline going crazy. I have my own thoughts about it all, and they probably fall a lot more in the middle than on either extreme. Let’s get into it.
1. I love HBCUs. I’ve never been offered nearly $30 million to leave one to go somewhere else.
HBCUs have my heart. At the same time, no matter how much I might love the space I’m in, warts and all, if you put $29.5 million in front of my face to go do the same thing at another place, I’m going to assume I’d be very, very inclined to take that option, get that money, and if I felt the desire to go back, do that. It’s a substantial raise. Who doesn’t like a substantial raise? Not only that, but it’s a chance to go to a place with significantly better resources, etc. I don’t know. Most of us associate Deion with his famous song, “Must Be the Money,” so it should come as no surprise that that amount of money could be a motivator. I love Black culture; I’m sure I could go find it anywhere is all I’m saying, and I’d like to do it with some numbers in front of the zeroes in my bank account. I’m just saying, $29.5 milli is $29.5 million.
2. I think Deion can do whatever Deion wants to do.
Which is exactly what seems to have happened here. Whether Deion coached Jackson State’s team into the ground or into a winning team (as he did), he literally could go do whatever he wanted. I’m not sure he owes anybody but himself (and his family, I suppose) in that regard.
With that being said….
3. Deion carried it like he was coming to change the culture of college football.
And he simply wasn’t there long enough to do that. He was there long enough to elevate…himself. In the three years he was at Jackson State, he did some significant things; you’ll see any number of people outlining EVERY SINGLE THING he has done or allegedly done, with or without sources. Seriously, by the time this convo dies down I’m prepared to hear that Deion was actually one of the founders of Jackson State University so he actually gave Black people more than anybody else ever in the state of Mississippi because he didn’t have to do that between sport seasons. I’m not ready to say that he sold, well, everybody a bill of goods yet, but he definitely leaned HEAVY into this idea that he was going to show the big boys what this Black college football thing was about and how HBCUs could compete with the right resources and circumstances (which, perhaps, could never truly exist in the first place).
4. In that same vein, Deion is getting way too much credit for things that don’t really have anything to do with him.
Look, while Deion was there, did Jackson State become “elevated”? Sure, to some folks. Did HBCUs and HBCU football? To a lesser degree, yes but a lot of that has been years in the making; it didn’t start with Deion Sanders. Deion isn’t responsible for any TV deals. Deion didn’t fix the infrastructure of the city of Jackson, Mississippi. Deion did not increase applications and enrollments to HBCUs around the country. Did he bring national attention to the football team? Yes. Did ESPN’s “College GameDay” come to Jackson because of him? Yes. Will they ever come again? Probably not. Will Jackson State football be in a better place after he leaves than when he showed up? Eh. This is the point; Deion made a huge impact, much of that impact is likely to leave with him as he takes his coaches and star recruits with him. Jackson State will be fine; the spotlight that Deion brought won’t shine as bright. This is my point about him not being there long enough to institute a culture and system that could live without him. He did a lot of great things while he was there and gave of himself. Credit him for those things; let’s stop pretending like he changed the face of HBCUs and/or HBCU football. He didn’t. I think that point frustrated a lot of the folks in HBCU football; there has been a lot of pretending as if it only mattered because of Deion. It didn’t.