Who is SWAC? The answer is obvious

OPINION: Deion Sanders represents the conference just like Eddie Robinson Jr., except with much greater flair and flash. It’s not Sanders' fault that he’s a media darling and Robinson is an anonymous first-year coach.

Jackson State Tigers head coach Deion Sanders, left, and Alabama State Hornets head coach Eddie Robinson Jr. during the 2022 SWAC Football Media Day on July 21, 2022 at the Birmingham Sheraton Hotel in Birmingham, Ala. (Photos by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Twenty-six years ago, Nike unveiled a brilliant ad with dozens of multi-hued, multicultural boys and girls. They were pictured playing golf or carrying clubs, filmed on golf courses and city streets, looking into the camera or into the distance. Several made an adorably bold proclamation:

I am Tiger Woods!” 

That’s my thought on the dust-up between Alabama State football coach Eddie Robinson Jr. and Jackson State counterpart Deion Sanders. After a brief postgame altercation following Alabama State’s 26-12 homecoming loss on Saturday, Robinson explained his grievance.

“I’m living on the shoulders of the SWAC,” Robinson told reporters. “He ain’t SWAC. I’m SWAC.”

I am Tiger Woods!

Make what you will of Robinson’s stiff arm after objecting to a bro-hug. He accused Sanders of speaking disrespectfully ahead of the contest, walking through ASU’s pre-game warm-ups, and trying to run up the score instead of taking a knee. Those could be reasonable gripes depending on your perspective, but the most interesting assertions are theoretical: 

1) Robinson is representative of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. 

2) Sanders is not.

“One of the comments that disturbed me out of all the comments, that I’m not SWAC,” Sanders told reporters. “If I ain’t SWAC, then who is SWAC? Baby, who is?”

Robinson couldn’t have picked a better way to improve his visibility. Despite the moniker, he isn’t the son of an HBCU legend. He’s also not a one-name celebrity who’s viewed as the HBCU sun that fellow coaches merely orbit. Nevertheless, Robinson has unquestionable credentials—a former Alabama State linebacker and two-time SWAC Defensive Player of the Year who played 11 NFL seasons and reached Super Bowl 34.

But Sanders is Tiger Woods and Robinson ain’t. Never one to waste publicity, Sanders wore a brand-new hoodie while dancing into a team meeting Tuesday morning. The front asked, “Who is SWAC!?!” The back answered: “I am SWAC!!”

He doesn’t have Robinson’s HBCU lineage and might not share a connection much longer, but Sanders is correct. He represents the conference just like Robinson, except with much greater flair and flash. It’s not Sanders’ fault that he’s a media darling and Robinson is an anonymous first-year coach.

“As it relates to the post-game press conference, I would like to apologize to Alabama State University President Dr. Quinton T. Ross, Jr., Board of Trustees, our alumni, faculty, staff, students and supporters for my choice of language,” Robinson tweeted Sunday. “I will use this as a teachable moment for myself, our staff, and players.”

The first lesson is to play the hand you’re dealt. Yes, your opponent might be close to running a Boston. But you might steal a couple of books if you’re strategic. Just follow the rules, watch the board, and don’t do anything stupid. It’s also OK to talk a little smack, on principle, even if your cards are trash.

“I hope he comes back next year,” Robinson said during Saturday’s rant. “I pray he don’t get a Power 5 job so we can play them next year in Jackson, and I pray they put us for their damn homecoming.”

I don’t know if Robinson or other SWAC coaches experience occasional pangs of jealousy or resentment toward Sanders, but they’re not the first ones if so. They should embrace the bigger spotlight and use it to their advantage, individually and collectively. Sanders is gonna get his like the four-part docuseries Amazon announced Tuesday. His counterparts will get theirs, just not equally.

One of Robinson’s gripes makes no sense. He was turned off earlier last week by Sanders likening the contest to a “money game” for ASU. But numbers don’t lie; Jackson State attracts a crowd and fills the bag. According to Andscape, Alabama State hadn’t drawn more than 16,000 fans for its last five homecoming games. On Saturday, the 26,500-seat stadium was at capacity.

“I was a darn good salesman leading up to the week,” Sanders told reporters. “Had they ever been sold out there? So, I thought I did my job. I thought I should be applauded, really.” 

Like the kids in that Nike commercial, Robinson can claim to be Tiger Woods. He can challenge preconceived notions, break barriers and make his mark. He can follow his dreams and be a football coach, like the kids can follow theirs and be golfers. But none can’t re-create the magical pied-piper effect

Sure, we’re all Tiger Woods, and we’re all SWAC if we choose to be.

Just not as much as Sanders at this moment.

Deron Snyder, from Brooklyn, is an award-winning columnist who lives near D.C. and pledged Alpha at HU-You Know! He’s reaching high, lying low, moving on, pushing off, keeping up, and throwing down. Got it? Get more at blackdoorventures.com/deron

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