Deion Sanders is not a sellout for going to Colorado

OPINION: Naysayers want to portray Sanders as a hypocrite and a traitor for leaving Jackson State football. But he helped put a huge spotlight on HBCU football and deserves the right to pursue his own dreams.

Head coach Deion Sanders of the Jackson State Tigers during the college football Cricket Celebration Bowl game between the South Carolina State Bulldogs and the Jackson State Tigers on December 18, 2021 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

I never thought Deion Sanders would remain at Jackson State long-term and continue to illuminate HBCUs with his personal shine. I never thought he would stay content below the top level of college football, making do with a sliver of the resources and prestige that Power 5 schools enjoy. 

I never thought he would consider the SWAC big enough for his brand. For selfish reasons, I didn’t want to be right. 

But Sanders isn’t wrong for bouncing to Colorado.

His staying would’ve been a great story, a fairy tale for Jackson State and other schools reaping prime benefits. As an HBCU advocate, I wanted the ride to last longer. I wish he’d continue to highlight their value and lure top recruits with an alternative they typically disregard.   

I also wish folks weren’t getting this moment twisted, though it was inevitable. There was crazy talk about Sanders’ potential departure from the day he arrived three years ago.

Critics suggested Sanders wasn’t really interested in the school, except as a stepping stone. They said he’d be a hypocrite to leave for a bigger school after convincing his players to reject them. Now that he’s leaving, naysayers are likening him to a traitor, a flashy egomaniac who pimped us out, a Tom who thinks the white man’s ice is colder.

Such mindsets only reflect the racial trauma we’ve endured and continue to cope with, competition between self-love and self-hate, and a mix of admiration, shame and jealousy. There’s no other explanation for viewing Sanders as a villain, a turncoat who has disrespected Jackson State and denigrated Black colleges. 

But let’s consider the facts and put hurt feelings aside.

Before his arrival, an HBCU had never landed the nation’s No. 1 recruit. Black college football was an afterthought in mainstream media. The marketing bureau Visit Jackson calculated a $16 million impact from JSU football in 2019. 

Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders hoists the winner’s trophy following the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship NCAA college football game against Southern University, Dec. 3, 2022, in Jackson, Mississippi, Jackson State won 43–24. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Since his arrival, top recruit Travis Hunter chose JSU over Florida State. ESPN broadcast its flagship “College GameDay” show from the Tigers’ home finale. And the team’s economic impact rose past $30 million for the 2021 season.

All of that is bad because Sanders left? Of course not. And, yes, he’s why it all happened. Absolutely.

But that’d be a silly reason to stay.

Put yourself in your shoes. Always you, wherever and whenever. Bringing what only you bring to the table. Working at jobs that might be a dream or not even close. What would you do in Sanders’ position? 

Exactly! 

Unless you’re a savior — with a cross you’d rather relinquish but ultimately accept — there’s no wrong answer.

Everyone who loves HBCUs doesn’t work at one, but any employee might leave for a different opportunity. Either way, Black colleges must continue their vital service, which dates to the first graduates roughly 10 generations ago. Those of us who love HBCUs should support them financially, at the very least. 

As someone in that category, I didn’t suffer common delusions about the “Prime Time” effect, the phenomenon unique to Sanders. Sanders didn’t increase our respect and appreciation of HBCUs. He didn’t make us finally realize that Black colleges have worth and value. He didn’t make them suddenly acceptable and added a cool factor. 

He might’ve done that for some of y’all and them. But we already knew. 

Sanders brought a revolving horde of journalists and freshly minted fans. They heard him speak out and advocate for HBCUs. His platform raised the national profile, making old-timers feel great. Now we’re charged with maintaining momentum as best we can without him. Hell no, it won’t be the same, but the job doesn’t change.

Besides, attention from mainstream media has been flicking and fleeting regarding HBCUs and HBCU sports, separate entities that we shouldn’t conflate. 

A lack of political and financial support presents organizational challenges that are particular to HBCUs, which account for 17 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 25 percent of STEM degrees awarded to Black graduates. A bunch of the 107 HBCUs don’t even field football teams. More than 25 percent play in Division II. Games aren’t cogs in a multimillion-dollar industry like they are at the highest level.

Nevertheless, coaches and players have made their way to HBCUs since the 1890s. The ranks include great NFL players like Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State), Steve McNair (Alcorn State), Art Shell (Maryland Eastern Shore), and Shannon Sharpe (Savannah State). Jackson State’s Walter Payton is among HBCUs’ nearly three dozen enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, though most played during the 1960s and ‘70s before widespread racial integration.

Freedom of choice is a wonderful thing. 

I graduated from Howard, and my wife graduated from Maryland. Our oldest child has a degree from Morgan State, and the baby has one from Michigan State. There’s been work with Black-owned and white-owned companies, and offers from Hispanic- and Asian-owned firms are welcome for consideration. Like Big Pun, we don’t discriminate.

I wish Sanders had stayed, but I ain’t mad he left. Though he didn’t graduate from an HBCU, he understands a foundational lesson: Follow your dream.

Whether that conforms with others’ vision for your life is irrelevant.


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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