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Dr. Arianna C. Stokes, a two-time graduate from Jackson State University, responds to former JSU head coach Deion Sanders leaving for a $5M contract to coach at the University of Colorado, a predominantly white institution. Many spectators, alumni and supporters have had strong arguments for and against the move, with one of the main points stressing how grateful JSU should be for Sanders’ 3-year tenure. “The notion that we should be grateful is embedded in the idea that we were not good enough in the first place and I’m sorry that many don’t have the range to think beyond that,” she writes. Photo by Depositphotos.com

‘You Should Be Grateful:’ Thee Jackson State University is Perpetually SWAC

“You should be grateful.”

The untimely departure of Deion Sanders as the Head Football Coach at Jackson State University has caused an uproar. There have been an array of think pieces regarding the feedback alumni and supporters have given in response to his exit. One idea in particular is that the Jackson State community should be grateful.

I have a lot of points to make and there are so many directions I can go. Bear with me. 

Jackson State University was already on the map. Nobody put us on. We are a Carnegie-classified institution. For those who don’t know what that means, I strongly advise you to be quiet concerning this specific topic, but please look it up—162 SWAC championships and counting. One of the largest HBCUs in the country. Corporate partnerships. Motown. MAC. Young Money. Michelle Obama, and much more. All of this was set before “I believe” was a thing. 

Deion Sanders said repeatedly during his 3-year coaching tenure at JSU that God sent him to Jackson State, a historically Black university in Jackson, Miss. He announced on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, that he was leaving after three seasons—the same night of the SWAC championship—leaving many fans disappointed and upset. Photo courtesy Charles A. Smith/University Communications

Our alumni are neither to blame nor responsible for retaining a coaching staff. Alumni giving is low nationwide, but certain media will make you believe JSU alumni don’t care about their own institution. Have you never witnessed “Thee I Love”?  

University donorship and endowments have placed HBCUs at a systemic disadvantage along with state appropriations and poor legislation. Let’s not be dense. A quick google search will teach you this. 

Comparatively speaking, University of Colorado alumni were reportedly giving at a rate of 8% and hoping to increase by 2016 (no updated information available), so that lets you know the money for a coaching salary at an institution that supports 25,000+ undergraduate students didn’t come solely from their alumni, either. Exactly. 

Coaching at JSU was an opportunity for Deion Sanders. This was a mutually beneficial relationship. He could not two-step his way into a serious conversation about a head coaching position with a Power 5 university until after JSU gave him a platform to succeed. For the same schools he conveniently knew wouldn’t check for him, Sanders permitted the Mike Jones treatment. How quickly they forget. Imagine that. 

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Smart. Tough. Fast. Disciplined. With character? The same character that has Sanders galavanting around Colorado University while his JSU championship team and coaches are at home watching him rave about the disparities he, the millionaire who doesn’t need “a bag,” no longer has to experience because CU gave him an “opportunity”? A quick shuck and jive before the celebration bowl. 

Many involved in the conversation can’t recognize the tones of anti-Blackness in his language because they “ooh” and “ahh” at anything shiny. The reiteration of the assumed lack of crime. The reiteration of amenities not found elsewhere. The dig at the JSU media and marketing team. Sanders’ entire messaging about pushing HBCU athletes and programs forward and showcasing the possibility, that we already knew, of HBCU athletes playing at the next level has been undone with his words and actions. He went to the very place “for opportunity” that he claimed Black athletes didn’t need to go for said opportunities. It’s hypocritical. 

Coach Deion Sanders was SWAC—Temporarily

We always knew Deion Sanders wouldn’t stay at JSU indefinitely, and that’s fine. He signed a four-year contract in 2020. It’s 2022. He came to the Bible Belt as this self-proclaimed HBCU Football/SWAC way-maker, preaching in every presser about longevity: “We gotta dominate. Job’s not done. Finish. We have work to do.” And then he took the first ticket to the mountains. The celebration bowl hasn’t been won. Job’s not done. Having one foot in and one foot out at the most critical point of the season is not smart, disciplined, or a move of character, but I suppose it is fast and tough. 

Have you ever worked with students? One of the most unethical things you can do is tell a student they are not good enough, but that is exactly what Deion said to his student-athletes—the same athletes that helped him look good every Saturday. He communicated that he’s good enough to go “to the next level,” but they are not, all while announcing to his “new” team that the former never had such shiny things. Mind you, this “next level” involves a team with a 1-11 record. 

On Saturday, December 3, 2022, Jackson State University’s Sonic Boom Of The South returned to “THEE VET” to take on Southern Universities Human Juke Box in The SWAC Championship. Courtesy JSU Bands on YouTube

I sure hate that the media has made some people believe that their opinion on an issue unique to HBCUs holds merit or value. It holds neither. What they attest that we don’t have or can’t do is a reflection of their lack of knowledge, not of our abilities. 

See, it’s “Thee I love,” not, “The I love.” The love we have for our legacy and institution can not be minimized to a temporary figure. 

The statement is that we should be grateful. The nerve of us to want our head coach to deliver.

The nerve of us to think we are just as good, if not better.

The nerve of us to have relentless pride in our institution. 

Why be grateful when greatness is right there? The notion that we should be grateful is embedded in the idea that we were not good enough in the first place and I’m sorry that many don’t have the range to think beyond that. 

This is why we gate-keep.

I can’t say that I care about what other reasons may surround Sanders’ departure. I’ve seen all the “character” I need to see from him in the last week. 

Thee Jackson State University is as resilient as we are proud, and we will be OK.

Signed, 

A Tiger-Bred, two-time JSU Grad with more than enough SWAC hours to comment.

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to azia@mississippifreepress.org. We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.  

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