As an HBCU grad I’m sad, but Deion Sanders is doing what every college football coach in America would do if given a chance: He is leaving success at a smaller school with limited options for the promised land of better facilities, better support, a deeper bench of more talented players and a chance to play on a bigger stage. Some may say that by taking the job at Colorado, Sanders is opening the doors for more African Americans to obtain head coaching jobs, a field in which we are notoriously underrepresented. (According to AP News, African Americans make up 9% of Division I head coach positions.)
Sanders arrived in 2020, a year of heated discussions and protest over racism and police brutality in the United States, prompted by the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis. In the sports world, Sanders’s move to Jackson State was a signal event that foreshadowed possibilities such as more opportunities for Black coaches, who have largely been shut out of leading teams by predominantly white institutions, but who have received more love and respect at historically Black colleges and universities.
A steady stream of top African American players heading to HBCUs, a rise to something like equality in respect, competitiveness, TV exposure and maybe even more financial support for Black schools, which have been long underfunded compared with predominantly white counterparts.
Did Sanders use Jackson State as a launching pad for his coaching career? Of course he did, but fair exchange is not a robbery. In three years, Sanders did more for Jackson State than anyone expected. He didn’t just lend his talents; he lent his celebrity and his cachet with other celebrities to ensure that Jackson State would be in a better position once he left.
I’ve partook in debates about Sanders leaving Jackson State that have been centered on whether he should be considered a “sellout” for leaving an HBCU football program that he made successful for a struggling program at a better-funded, predominantly white institute. My take is this is the circumstance of life but not only college football. This is not a Deion Sanders thing, because he was able to move mountains and make changes and gave people a sense of pride for HBCUs; now we feel like he owes us for the rest of his life and that’s not fair. In today’s slang, we call it “securing the bag.” Sanders did that, but he did it after giving Jackson State the “for the culture” push that was needed.
In the end, the profound legacy of HBCUs just wasn’t enough for Sanders. In addition to his own salary, Colorado promised Sanders a $5 million war chest to hire his coaching staff, another perk that wasn’t possible at Jackson State. In fact, Sanders’ new contract at Colorado is more than 10 times larger than Jackson State’s entire $2.1 million football budget in 2021. As my grandfather often told me growing up, the show must go on. I wish Primetime well. All in all Sanders ultimately did more good than harm in terms of raising the profile of HBCU athletics. Furthermore, one person was never going to bring the rise of HBCUs to the prominence of Power Five programs. #WeComing
Devon Davis is a public policy specialist at Bose Public Affairs Group. Contact him at email@example.com.