Football Coach Deion Sanders departed Jackson State University (JSU) for “greener” pastures at the University of Colorado (UC). It was his right and prerogative to make that career decision. With him came the players and coaches of his choosing. While coaches can come and go as they please with respect to employment, the players came to UC by way of the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) transfer portal, whether from JSU or any other school.
The transfer portal is a compliance tool that facilitates the transfer of college athletes between member institutions. But there’s another recruit that Sanders desperately attempted to capture for Colorado — unfortunately for him, absent the luxury of the transfer portal … Blackness.
Specifically speaking, Sanders wants the very cultural ways of knowing displayed by Black people at HBCUs during athletic competitions, at UC — a PWI or predominantly white institution.
In a meeting with the Colorado marching band directors, Sanders gave a part-tutorial, part-instruction about his desire of the band. But those folks are incapable of giving Sanders what he wants. He wants the Sonic Boom of the South at Colorado. He wants the Human Jukebox at Colorado. He wants the Symphony of Soul at Colorado. What he has is the Golden Buffalo marching band and Sanders is unsure if they’re ready for prime time.
I get it…
Black folk… we come with an energy and a passion that is unmatched when we’re of one accord—particularly at a communal gathering like an athletic competition. You find it at an HBCU, in the Black Church, at a Black barbecue, at a Black wedding… It’s an addictive and infectious energy.
Black culture and the meaning-making that’s tied to it is uniquely our own and within a society that is anti-Black, we facilitate Blackness in spirited ways within our spaces to provide our lives with a level of balance that a white settler colonial project such as the United States does not. When observed, some misconstrue our joy for childlike bliss, careless or oblivious of the injustice upon us. This perspective justifies their cognitive dissonance regarding the Black experience in America.
There are others who see our joy and desire to commodify it, white and Black folk alike.
If Sanders could, he would bottle up the Blackness at JSU and pour it onto UC, to recruit Black players and ingratiate himself with Division 1 presidents, athletic directors, their donors, and the media to make his next move his best move. All this, meanwhile, he uses racial coded language around economics and home situation to describe the players he wants at particular positions—QB and DL—reflective of the racist attitudes of NFL general managers who gatekeep the QB position for white players, but I digress.
I believe that Sanders contains a level of care for his players. I also believe that he’s acutely aware of how his Blackness and the aesthetics of Blackness can help him in his career trajectory. Sadly, for Coach Prime, the Blackness he left behind for whiter pastures can’t transfer to Colorado like his players did.
The Blackness he wants rests among the Black institutions and Black communal spaces to be consumed by and restorative for Black people. The irresistible force that is Black culture cannot be expressed with the full force of the joy, beauty and magnificence in any place other than the governance spaces we create by ourselves for ourselves.
Sanders knows that Boulder ain’t Jackson. He’ll realize there isn’t a sonic sound like the one that he left behind. Jackson State will be Jackson State. The question is will Sanders be who he is without “the culture?”
Rann Miller is an educator and freelance writer based in New Jersey. His Urban Education Mixtape blog supports urban educators and parents of children attending urban schools. He is the author of Resistance Stories from Black History for Kids (Bloom Books for Young Readers) to be released on March 7. Follow him on Twitter @RealRannMiller.