What started with a lavish indoor pep rally during the height of the pandemic — putting the health of students and school employees at risk — ended with a cowardice move to dodge reporters, as the head coach of a 12-0 football team that just won its second straight Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship was able to sidestep his media obligations after a season in which he always had one foot out the door.
Deion Sanders is done with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), as “Coach Prime” has chosen to leave an undefeated Black school for a major payday at a predominately white institution (PWI) that has a football team that just went 1-11.
Sanders is leaving JSU after three seasons for Colorado and is scheduled to take part in a press conference on Sunday in Boulder. He couldn’t wait to get out of the state of Mississippi, as he hopped on a plane Saturday night headed to Colorado after breaking the news to his team.
For all the debates and conversations about if Sanders’ time at JSU was a positive or negative experience for HBCUs, what can’t be denied is the feeling that there was so much left to be done. However, that was never really feasible for a man that only saw JSU as a step stool.
Sanders wasn’t a savior for HBCUs, he was the Pied Piper playing a hypnotizing song that put those who refused to educate themselves on his past into a trance. And for all the people who are still in denial about who Sanders was before he showed up, who he was during his short tenure at JSU, and who he will always be, you are living in a fairytale world. This isn’t a situation in which Bob Iger has hired Tyler Perry to write the screenplay for a new Pixar film. This is real life, and you’re being bamboozled by your unwillingness to admit that you believed in an egotistical clown who sold out “the culture,” while he always understood that your inability to accept the facts would leave you in the middle of debates saying simplistic things like, “But he got the program on ESPN” as your only pitiful argument.
The thing that made Sanders’ time at JSU so fascinating was that too many believed that his antics and soundbites were helping HBCUs as a whole — when they weren’t. And yes, while more football games may have been aired on ESPN3, and money was donated — for the most part, those were all things that benefitted Sanders, not HBCUs across the board.
Has Tougaloo College’s athletic department’s budget experienced a surplus that we haven’t heard about because of Sanders? Or how about Fort Valley State University? Morehouse College? Or any of the other 106 HBCUs across this nation that didn’t have Sanders on payroll?
The answer is no. Sanders didn’t care about making HBCUs better. He cared about making the one that paid him better — until he could parlay that into a better opportunity for him and his sons at a PWI.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen highly-ranked recruits or “celebrity athletes” flirt with — and embellish — about “doing it for the culture” and wanting to change the game for HBCU athletics. Makur Maker’s short-lived basketball stay at Howard University was an epic failure, just like it was for Master P.’s son when he left Tennessee State University within the blink of an eye. And then there was Mikey Williams, a four-star recruit who kept his name in the news by continually mentioning that an HBCU was a real possibility — until he signed with Memphis a few weeks ago.
If the game is ever going to change for HBCU athletics, then it will happen by doing it the right way, which includes investing resources and giving exposure to these schools and their athletic programs so that they have all the tools necessary to recruit and retain 3, 4, and 5-star athletes. That’s how you build and sustain programs that have proven that they can recruit top-tier talent and send kids to the pros. That’s the blueprint, not quick fixes or flash-in-the-pan hires like Sanders who are just biding their time until they can leave like a thief in the night.
But, the one incident that will always define Sanders’ legacy the most at JSU is when the man who always claimed that he cared about Black people banned a Black reporter — the JSU beat writer for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi — from covering his team.
“The ban was allegedly lifted after discussions with others in the university’s administration. It never felt as if the air was really cleared, though,” Marlon A. Walker told Deadspin. Walker was the Executive Editor at the newspaper during the time of the incident. Sanders banned the reporter because he knew he was going to be asked some tough questions at the 2021 SWAC Media Day, due to a report that came out earlier in the week detailing how one of his most coveted recruits was charged with assaulting a woman. “Even after we changed reporters it was difficult. Deion Sanders made it hard for all local news reporters to cover the football team, mostly because he preferred national press, which was no secret,” Walker explained.
In just three seasons at JSU, Sanders compiled a 26-5 record and brought attention to the program that hadn’t been seen since the days of Walter Payton. His resume and coaching skills speak for themselves, but at what cost? Was the winning worth it?
In the coming days, Sanders will cherry-pick the coaches and players he wants to take with him to Colorado. The majority of the players in that program will be forced to decide on whether or not they will stay and play for a coach they never signed up for, or transfer elsewhere. The questions will loom for longer than the coming offseason, as it’s clear that, until recently, Sanders never had a succession plan for how the program would run after he was gone. People who don’t care about where they are because they’re fixated on where they’re trying to go next rarely lose sleep over what will happen after they’re gone. That’s why the players at JSU should be commended for their dominant 43-24 win over Southern University on Saturday night, as they executed the game plan despite the heavy cloud that their coach brought over their stadium.
Sanders’ final game as the head coach of Jackson State will take place on Saturday, December 17, when the Tigers face North Carolina Central in the Celebration Bowl for the Black National Championship in Atlanta. His team played in last year’s game. The braggadocious Deion Sanders was humbled that day. His team got obliterated 31-10 by South Carolina State University. The meek shall inherit the Earth.