Some people are upset that Deion Sanders left Jackson State University after three seasons. Others hold no malice toward him and charge it (his leaving) to the game — that is the circumstances that often determine the moves of (Black) coaches to create a better situation for themselves.
Personally, I am somewhere in the middle.
Sanders’ goal was to be a head football coach at a Power 5 school — a school in one of the five major conferences of the Football Bowl Subdivision or FBS. He has achieved that after coaching at an HBCU —the only head coaching opportunity presented to him three years ago. He achieved his goal and kudos to him for it.
Considering that an overwhelming majority of football players in college division FBS and the National Football League are Black men, there’s a need for more Black men coaching in those spaces. Currently, three out of 32 NFL head coaches are Black and 12 out of 131 FBS schools have a Black head coach. Deion Sanders is one of the 12 and his stellar job propelled him to the opportunity at the University of Colorado.
If you followed Sanders as a player, then you know that he’s charismatic, flamboyant and magnetic. His personality attracts attention and that’s what he brought to historically Black JSU — attention. But if you followed him as a player, then you know he was one of the best to play his position in football history.
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He translated his success from the NFL to JSU, going 27-5 in his time there. He led the team undefeated this season.
He’s not an NFL Hall of Famer who stole money from indigent communities in Mississippi, but I digress.
However, I’d be lying if I said his departure didn’t leave a nasty taste in my mouth. Not because he left, but rather because his football team, the fans of JSU football, and the town of Jackson, Mississippi deserved better. He said that he owed Colorado for the opportunity it gave him — he doesn’t believe he owed the people he left better?
Leaving JSU creates a lost opportunity. By no means is Deion Sanders the savior of JSU football, the SWAC (Southwestern Athletic Conference), or HBCUs in general. However, these entities are Black spaces: Black governance spaces where we (and who we are to each other) are at the center of our collective focus. To use one’s cache to further develop those spaces, like a Deion Sanders, would leave a lasting legacy whereby a Hall of Fame resume such as “Primetime” would pale in comparison.
Sanders told the people that God brought him to JSU and I don’t even doubt that God could have led him to Colorado. But I know God too… and I specifically know that he don’t like ugly (excuse my use of the vernacular here but it fits this conversation).
Telling players not to enter the transfer portal when they came expecting him to stay was ugly. Rushing the SWAC trophy presentation along so that he could get on a plane to Boulder, Colorado was ugly. The passive-aggressive shot at Jackson, Mississippi (mentioning that the Boulder campus was both beautiful and safe) and All-Lives-Matter-ing his way through a response when speaking about leaving an HBCU was ugly.
Also, leaving the job you said God sent you, in the middle of that job, is ugly too. But I digress.
Again, I don’t judge Deion for parlaying JSU into Colorado. But Black folks expected and deserved an investment, not philanthropy. For that, many of us are disappointed.
Rann Miller is the director of anti-bias and DEI initiatives as well as a high school social studies teacher for a school district located in Southern New Jersey. He’s also a freelance writer and founder of the Urban Education Mixtape, supporting urban educators and parents of students in urban schools. He is the author of the upcoming book, Resistance Stories from Black History for Kids, with an anticipated release date of February 2023. You can follow him on Twitter @UrbanEdDJ .