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Deion Sanders has decided to quit coaching at HBCU. Here’s why people are so upset


College football fans and HBCU alumni still agree with Deion Sanders announcing his departure from Jackson State University for his new position as head coach at the University of Colorado.

The move struck a chord, especially among Mississippi college alumni, with some calling Sanders a “sell” for leaving the historically black JSU for the predominantly white CU.

Others are angry with him for selling the dream of changing the sports culture at historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, across the United States and leaving after just three years.

While some hoped for all that Sanders said he could accomplish for JSU and other HBCUs, they “didn’t realize this story of segregation, the story of integration and the story of how the contracts worked. really put those schools behind 8-ball, so to speak,” said Louis Moore, a history professor at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.

It’s complicated, but the anger, confusion and disappointment over Sanders’ move stems from a culture of loyalty and respect for history that is unique to HBCUs, experts told CNN. But the release of Coach Prime also highlights a decades-long discussion about fairness in college athletics.

Here is a snapshot of the conversation that fueled this week’s debate:

Sanders had coached the JSU Tigers for the past three seasons, going 26-5 and most recently winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship from Southern University.

The school took a chance on Sanders, who had no college coaching experience. He previously served as the offensive coordinator at Trinity Christian School, a private school near Dallas.

What he brought was exposure, both to Jackson State and to HBCUs in general.

“I could be an assistant at any college or a head coach at any college, but at a time like this, God called me to Jackson State and I to these men,” Sanders said in 2020 when it was announced that he would be the new JSU head coach.

Sanders also promised to change the HBCU landscape, essentially becoming a savior of HBCU athletics and putting those schools on the map.

He did that, sort of. Since joining, JSU has been featured on ESPN’s “First Take” and ABC’s “Good Morning America.” The school was featured in the 2021 NBA All-Star Game and was even featured in a Pepsi commercial. Sanders also donated half his salary to complete renovations to the school’s football stadium, according to CNN affiliate WLBT-TV.

All of this in the span of three years gave a lot of hope that he was in it for the long haul. This was obviously not the case.

“You weren’t going to draw that attention to all those other schools while he was there.” If he was really going to accomplish that, it’s a 10-year program, at least,” Clark Atlanta University alumnus Bomani Jones told CNN’s Don Lemon this week.

Also, what Sanders didn’t take into consideration was the culture of loyalty at HBCUs.

“HBCUs are assumed to engender that loyalty, certainly among its alumni, certainly among athletes and supposedly among coaches and Deion Sanders has debunked that,” said Billy Hawkins, a University of Houston professor and author of “The New Plantation: Black Athletes, College Sports, and Predominantly White NCAA Institutions.

Two HBCU coaches known for their long tenures include Eddie Robinson, head football coach at Grambling State University between the 1940s and 1990s, and Jake Gaither who led Florida A&M’s program from 1945 to 1969, according to the Black College Football Hall of Fame.

But, it’s problematic to expect coaches to stay that long, Hawkins said.

“When you look at the HBCUs, they’re probably the only institutions that had that kind of institutional memory in sports training even (predominantly white institutions) only have maybe a few that lasted about 10, 15, 20 years old,” he said. .

Sanders’ arrival and departure from Jackson State raises many issues of history and fairness.

HBCUs were created for black Americans who were barred from attending predominantly white institutions, or PWIs. Initially, officials at these institutions didn’t even want sports programs because black athletes rarely turned professional in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Hawkins said.

Despite this, football was introduced to HBCUs in the 1890s, according to the nonprofit African-American Registry. It wasn’t until after World War II that the golden age of black college football began and HBCUs produced more talent per capita than any other school in the country, said Derrick E. White. , professor of history at the University of Kentucky. and half of “The Black Athlete” podcast.

“These schools (had) small budgets, but because of segregation were able to produce this wealth of talent,” White said.

Between 1961 and 2002, Jackson State had 94 players drafted into the NFL. The school had 11 players drafted in 1968, breaking a Mississippi state record then, according to its website.

Integration in the late 1960s and early 1970s ended the golden age.

“HBCUs were once seen as the mecca of black intellectual ability, now with the flight that has taken place or the migration of black people to PWIs – both as students and as athletes – there is has this perception that they’re less than,” Hawkins said. . “Along with that lack of resources, there’s also the notion and ideology of intellectual inferiority and I think that carries over to athletics as well, so they don’t necessarily get the same kinds of sponsorships and endorsements because there’s this assumption that there’s subpar performance.”

A 1984 Supreme Court decision further widened the gap between HBCUs and their counterparts. The ruling said the NCAA could no longer control games shown on television. Conferences — like the SEC, ACC, and Big 10 — could now negotiate directly with broadcasters.

“All the little colleges are shut out of this TV funding model because people on ABC don’t want to see Dartmouth or Grambling,” White said, adding that small Division I schools have learned to depend on donors who had millions to pour into their university programs. .

And historically, due to a lack of generational wealth among many black families in the United States, HBCUs lack that wealthy donor base.

So, combine a history of segregation, a loss of resources for integration, and a lack of fairness in securing multimillion-dollar television contracts, and HBCUs are left behind financially and athletically.

Next is Sanders, who talked about rebuilding the JSU brand, recruiting rookies and amplifying HBCUs for the mainstream.

“He sold the big dream. Now, if you paid attention, you knew the dream he was selling wasn’t possible – it wasn’t an achievable dream he had – but he sold it and he made people believe, then he tossed the heck out of it and left,” Jones, the sportscaster, told CNN’s Don Lemon.

Sanders’ move west also highlights another problem in college sports, the lack of black head coaches at big league schools. His gesture is definitely progress for black college football coaches.

Sanders is one of three HBCU coaches to go to a PWI, experts say, and the first to go to a Power 5 school. A black head coach has also never won a Football Bowl subdivision — the top tier of Division I – National Championship.

“They don’t stand a chance,” said Moore, a Grand Valley State professor and other half of “The Black Athlete” podcast.

Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in HBCUs from the election of Vice President Kamala Harris, a Howard University alumnus, to companies increasing recruitment of HBCU students and Ralph Lauren collaborating with Morehouse. and Spelman Colleges in Atlanta. The New York Times even reported that the current climate has led elite black students to choose HBCUs over elite PWIs.

Sanders was part of this resurgence and played his part, bringing even more eyes to these schools.

“Nobody was talking about HBCUs,” Hall of Famer and HBCU alumnus Shannon Sharpe said on her Fox show “Undisputed.”

“They’re on TV and it’s because of him,” Sharpe said of Sanders. “He gave you the plan, now follow the plan.”

Part of that plan, pundits said, is that HBCUs don’t need to emulate PWIs, but rather remember the product that makes them unique to their fan base.

“At HBCUs, the whole experience is a cultural expression,” Hawkins said, referring to the marching bands and their electrifying halftime shows that make football games a combination of music and sports.

Schools also provide space for black students where they don’t have to represent the entire race, said White, a professor at the University of Kentucky. Remembering those things about what makes the experience unique will help Jackson State move forward after Sanders.

“It will take a visionary administrator, not just an athletic director, … to marry the academic mission, the cultural mission, and the athletic mission to really propel not just the individual school forward, but all black schools.”

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