Deion Sanders put Jackson State and HBCU football on the map in a big way and is doing what most college football coaches do when they significantly upgrade a less-than-prominent program – cashing in by moving on to a higher-paying, higher-profile job.
“You’ve been hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray, run amok; this is what he does.”
It’s not just the good folks at Jackson State feeling this way about Deion Sanders these days.
His decision to leave JSU has reverberated throughout the HBCU community in a way you seldom see happen when the essence of what’s happening involves one man’s decision to leave for another higher-profile, higher-paying job.
And that is where HBCUs distinguish themselves when it comes to sports, from Power 5 conferences. When a coach leaves a Power 5 school for a bigger one or one with greater resources, he levels up.
But Sanders’ decision isn’t about just leaving one job for a higher-paying one. He’s leaving behind an authentically Black culture, spearheading a movement for more respect to be put on HBCU football that his presence helped amplify.
Sanders did so in part by winning both on the field and on the recruiting battlefields that included knocking off a few Power 5 schools along the way.
But that’s a thing of the past now.
And that is where a lot of the anger and frustration and disappointment towards Sanders, comes from. Sanders provided hope that a more level playing field for HBCUs in comparison to Power 5 schools, wasn’t just a pipe dream anymore.
Landing the top players in the nation remains a longshot for most HBCUs but Sanders proved it could be done.
But that hope, like Sanders, is gone.
And the concern for many is it’ll never come back; certainly not in the form that we saw with Sanders at Jackson State.
Sander’s departure is a punch to the gut for many who remember all too well how Jackson State never flinched in its support of Sanders after the school was criticized and ridiculed in some circles for his hire being nothing more than a publicity stunt.
Jackson State took a chance on Sanders when nobody else wanted him to be a head coach. College programs had plenty of reasons to be fearful that the Hall of Famer would be all sizzle and little to no substance when it came to running a college football program.
It took him just three seasons, in the middle of a pandemic mind you, to reverse the fortunes of the JSU program and put HBCU football as a whole in a much brighter light - the kind that “Coach Prime” was accustomed to being in as a player at both the college and pro level.
And then ... he left.
SPOILER ALERT: That is what college football coaches do, all the time, at all levels.
These are grown men trying to win a game on the field, and win in the game of life which can be messy, unorganized, and can occasionally involve deception.
You don’t think the kids at Liberty University and the players they recruited thought Hugh Freeze was coming back before he bolted to Auburn?
What about Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell who left for Wisconsin? You don’t think some of their kids are salty about their coach leaving?
Both left for what was clearly an upgrade job-wise, and yet the outcry from their now-former schools and their respective fanbases isn’t nearly as loud or contentious as it is for Sanders.
So why should Sanders be viewed or treated so differently? Because the standard those coaches were measured against, was much lower than that of Sanders.
Why is that?
Because the one thing few are talking about in all the issues surrounding Sanders’ departure, is integrity. And that is why his departure hurts so many, particularly in the Black community.
Sanders deserves a lot of credit for the attention and notoriety he brought to Jackson State and HBCU football. But that credit was built upon the same double-talk that coaches in Power 5 conferences tell potential recruits and their families all the time.
Sanders, like his Power 5 brethren, went into the homes of recruits who could go to any school in the country, trying to convince them and their Mommas and their Daddy’s that an HBCU experience and the lessons learned from being an independent-minded trailblazer, were worth more than taking the predictably beaten path that comes with being part of the Power 5 privilege machine.
He was different, Momma’s thought. He was going to help my son develop into an honorable man of integrity, thought Daddy’s.
The truth is, Deion Sanders isn’t any different than any other coach looking to break into the Power 5 coaching scene.
So those who are still upset at Deion Sanders flashing the peace sign to Jackson State when the first real opportunity to leave for greener pastures presented itself, need to get over it and move on.
Deion Sanders has.
Just like Denzel Washington in the movie “Malcolm X” talked about Black folks being, “hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray ...” it was what Washington said near the end of that memorable soliloquy that you need to remember.
“This is what he does.”