It's been fascinating to watch the reaction to Deion Sanders taking the Colorado coaching job. To some, Sanders is turning his back on Jackson State, the SWAC and Black people, ending a performative stint in which he never intended to stay long anyway. To others, he is a hero who will take the Buffaloes to new heights and make them a force in a Power Five conference.
This is the truth about Sanders: He isn't a traitor to Black people. He isn't necessarily a savior for Colorado, either. He is, quite simply, what every other big-time college coach is: a capitalist.
It is absurd, borderline antebellum, to expect Sanders to stay at Jackson State because he's Black and the school is an HBCU. HBCUs are the intellectual and moral pulse of the Black community and have been for over a century. They are cherished, but Sanders himself shouldn't feel indebted to Jackson State. He's not a sellout for leaving.
If you know even a little about Sanders, you know he was never going to stay long. He was always going to outgrow the SWAC because, quite frankly, he's one of the best pure coaching talents in all of college football. Not perfect. Not always polished. But he was destined for a larger stage than the SWAC could provide.
If the belief is that Sanders should have stayed to help fix some of the ills plaguing the city, well, it's a noble thought, but he can't repair the shattered water system in Jackson or singlehandedly fix the decades-long systemic racism that plagues Mississippi. Is he supposed to put Brett Favre in handcuffs, too?
It has been stunning to see so many people say Sanders should stay out of loyalty to HBCUs. White coaches aren't asked to decline advancement out of loyalty to white people. While the challenges in the Black community, my community, are formidable, I don't expect Sanders to repair them. You know why? Because he's a football coach. No one is asking Nick Saban to create faster-than-light travel. You know why? Because he's a football coach. The only thing required of him is to win football games.
Sanders took more money and moved to a better situation the way every football capitalist coach ever has in the history of the universe.
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Georgia coach Kirby Smart earns $10 million a year and the buyout for his contract is a staggering $103 million. When Smart was an assistant at Valdosta State, no one ever expected him to stay forever. He moved up the coaching ladder and now has the net worth of a small country.
Sanders' success at Jackson State, and what could be even more success at Colorado, and earning huge paychecks along the way, could open up doors for Black coaches. Sanders could even lead to the hiring of more Black coaches in Power Five conferences.
In many ways Sanders did exactly what he was supposed to do at Jackson State ... and then some. It was actually one of the more remarkable runs (on and off the field) in recent SWAC history.
The attention he brought to the school was staggering. It was profiled by "60 Minutes" and "Good Morning America." ESPN's "College GameDay" set up shop there.
To say Sanders changed the culture is a dramatic understatement. There were new practice facilities and endorsement deals and, at every step, he promoted HBCUs and the SWAC. He is one of the greatest ambassadors for both we've ever seen.
More than anything, Sanders left Jackson State better off than before he arrived. That is one of the greatest goals of a head coach.
“He challenged norms and transformed mindsets of what was perceived to be possible to create new visions for success while inspiring the community and creating a spotlight on HBCU sports and culture,” said Ashley Robinson, Jackson State's athletic director, in a statement. “I cannot thank him enough for his impact on me professionally and personally.”
“I’ve been around a lot of good head coaches. I’ve never been around somebody like him,” assistant head coach Gary Harrell said recently. “How he manages people. How he manages players and the team. He’s just so consistent from the time he gets here until he leaves. He approaches everything he does – no matter what it is – with the same mindset. You just don’t see a lot of people who can do that.”
On the field, the team went 12-0 this season and in his three years, Sanders lost just five games. Jackson State won the SWAC last year for the first time since 2007 and captured it again this season.
He was tactically smart and adaptive. He understood his players. He ran a potent and modern offense. He got the back of his assistant coaches. He was everything you want to see in a rising star coach.
Sanders made Jackson State better and the school made him better. It's a fair tradeoff. One that coaches have made for decades.
Now it's Sanders' turn.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Deion Sanders isn't a sellout after leaving Jackson State for Colorado