This past week was rough. It was replete with political posturing from my Republican colleagues, some of whom believe Gov. Evers’ extension of the mask mandate constitutes a ‘power grab.’ While I vehemently disagree with that mindset, I was further unnerved by the miscarriage of justice that occurred in the Breonna Taylor case in Louisville, KY. But as my grandmother says, “God will send you a rainbow, even in the midst of your storms”—and this week’s rainbow came from one of my favorite sport icons, Deion Sanders.
This past week, Jackson State University named Sanders as their head football coach. For many, this may not seem like much; but for Historically Black College (HBCU) alumni across the globe, this was epic news. HBCU sport programs thrived during the time of legalized segregation and served as a training ground for many African American athletes, but as integration became the norm, these programs were unable to keep pace with universities that boasted larger endowments, well-paid boosters, larger scholarship awards and national television coverage. While HBCU athletes still made their way to the NFL, representation began to wane over time.
Sanders stated that one of his goals as head coach is to open the eyes of NFL recruiters to HBCU athletes. There is most definitely a precedent for HBCU athletes doing well at the professional level. When one considers the careers of Shannon Sharpe (Savannah State University), Michael Strahan (Texas Southern University), Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State University) and Donald Driver (Alcorn State University), all of whom are Hall of Fame honorees or contenders. The “Prime Time” effect has already started to take shape, as Sanders was able to secure his first recruit, defensive back Javorrius Selmon, who played for Mississippi State University, a powerhouse of the Southeastern Conference (SEC).
This was most definitely serendipitous, as last week was National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week. National HBCU week pays tribute to their legacy of promoting equal opportunities for high-quality education. The week includes an annual conference in Washington, DC, where HBCUs are celebrated and acknowledged. While sports are but one aspect of HBCU culture, Deion Sanders’ commitment to Jackson State University signals a giant step in creating parity for talented student athletes that attend these beloved institutions.