As head coach of the Jackson State University (JSU) football team, Deion Sanders – known by many as Coach Prime – has made nothing short of history. Last year, Sanders made headlines when he flipped the recruitment of 2022’s No. 1 overall prospect Travis Hunter. This was an unprecedented and game-changing move as it challenged the norm of top football recruits overwhelmingly choosing PWIs (predominately white institutions) to pursue their college football careers. Sanders continued to recruit other talented players, and in 2021, the Jackson State Tigers won their first conference championship since 2007; they won again this year with an undefeated overall record. Sanders has also made strides to improve the school’s facilities, even opting to donate half of his yearly salary towards renovation efforts.
Beyond JSU, Sanders’ aptly nicknamed ‘Prime Effect’ has extended to the HBCU community as a whole. The success of JSU has created a renewed interest in HBCU football, specifically the Southwestern Athletic Conference, where commissioner Dr. Charles McClelland says, “Coach Prime has opened up doors for the Southwestern Athletic Conference that we could not get into.” Many people looked to Sanders as the vanguard for a new era in which HBCUs could be taken seriously in the sports arena, and thus earn more funding and attention from the world at large.
So it’s no surprise that many of Sanders’ supporters and fans of Jackson State are disappointed to hear that after just two years, Sanders has decided to leave his job at JSU to become the Head Coach for the University of Colorado Buffaloes.
There are many reasons why the job could seem attractive to someone in Sanders’ position. According to CBS News Colorado, the school offered Sanders a starting salary of $5 million dollars per year, with an additional 40% increase depending on his completion of contractual benchmarks. This would be a considerable upgrade from the $300,000 a year Sanders makes at JSU. Colorado is also a Power 5 school, which guarantees the type of broadcast attention and funding that is not afforded to schools like JSU.
Reactions to Sanders’ decision on social media have been divided. While some say that Sanders’ move was realistic considering the amount of money he was offered by Colorado, others feel betrayed by Sanders’ and have labeled him a sellout.
While I don’t claim to know the motives behind Sanders’ decision to leave JSU for Colorado, it has been disappointing to see so many people, particularly Black people, justify the decision by citing the amount of money being offered as more important than anything else.
It is true that Sanders will be making 10x the amount of money at Colorado than he was making at Jackson State. But Deion Sanders is also reportedly worth $40 million dollars, and lives comfortably on his current salary. To have that much money and still want for more is greed by definition. And while some may revel in the claim that they would make the same decision as Sanders if given the opportunity because of the money, I find it abhorrent to wear that as a flag of pride. Our society is so lost in capitalistic greed that we have normalized and encouraged the mad pursuit of money even when already possessing a surplus of it. How can we hope to advance our community if we continuously prioritize profits over people?
Some may say that by taking the job at Colorado, Sanders is opening the doors for more Black people to obtain head coaching jobs, a field in which we are notoriously underrepresented (According to AP News, Black people make up a depressing 9% of Division I head positions.) This is an admirable mission to take on, but to its supporters I say, why is it always the focus of Black people to infiltrate white spaces rather than to develop our own? Where is the benefit in introducing more Black people to white institutions where they will likely face racism instead of encouraging them to invest their talents into HBCUs who need the support the most?
When evaluating the impact of Sanders’ decision, you must also consider the talented Black high school athletes out there who might’ve been considering JSU because of Sanders that would likely change their decision in light of his exit. Additionally, Sanders will be taking his son, quarterback Shedeur Sanders, with him to Colorado, and sports publications are predicting that other star players on the team will follow. These absences will surely affect Jackson’s performance going forward.
With this, Sanders has left a large hole in HBCU football that we can only hope to be filled sometime soon.
Sanders did not ask to be a martyr, true, and it is unfair to pin the aspirations of a community onto a single man. Sanders has been transparent with the media about considering options outside of JSU, and frankly, his decision is in line with the past actions of most head coaches. Additionally, in any criticisms of Sanders, one must also acknowledge that he is leaving JSU better than he found it because of his efforts in fixing the facilities and the attention he has given to the school’s program. But whether he intended to do so or not, Sanders became a symbol of hope to the HBCU community. To the question of whether or not HBCUs could be viable places for athletic talent to be fostered and grown, Sanders answered with, “Why not us?”
Why Not us! Why can’t we be blessed,promoted,endorsed & identified as game changers! Why not Jackson State University football Team. I BELIEVE! Do u ? pic.twitter.com/aBfVHt2Zjk
— COACH PRIME (@DeionSanders) March 14, 2021
He brought attention and validity to a community that was not taken seriously by any sports authority. So to then abandon that community for the first offer waved in your face is disappointing, and it is made no less so by the fact that Sanders didn’t necessarily “ask” to be a community leader.
If Sanders truly did leave JSU for Colorado because of the payday, it would be hard not to agree with those who have labeled him a sellout. But because we may never know what his true motives were in accepting the job at Colorado, to focus on Sanders alone here would be futile. The bigger issue to interrogate is why we as a community continue to encourage greed over people. For change to happen for Black communities, it will require the wealthiest and most privileged among us to make material sacrifices and use their privilege to help another. Anywhere where greed persists is not a place where justice can be founded.