Another road to success...
Let me start by saying, Deion Sanders has been and continues to be one of the most successful and influential athletic figures in the history of the United States. His playing days are well behind him, but his influence continues to be strong and his progress is impressive. I truly wish him continued success and expect that he will march forward in impressive fashion - literally. That being said, progress isn’t always progress and finding your purpose can be quite confusing when you want your purpose to reach beyond yourself. The idea of what progress means as an African descendant in America is never as simple as it seems for any other race. That’s because progress is often a double-edged sword. Deion Sanders is a perfect example of the complexity of being Black in the United States and that elusive word, progress.
The history of slavery in the United States has always created a complex roadmap for African descendants in America to achieve greatness and in many ways continues to present challenges that aren’t always easy to navigate. Taking the next step, getting ahead, progress has been tied to comparisons to Whiteness and White standards. Some might ask, “why is this negative?” The comparison to White America has a devaluing effect on Blackness. There is this constant juxtaposition to standards that may or may not be relevant. And slavery having been the ultimate deconstruction of Blackness, post-slavery in the United States is the very thing that has consistently positioned Whiteness as the standard for being American.
Deion’s choice continues to place White institution’s standards above our own. Anyone who thinks otherwise doesn’t understand racism in the United States. While I wholeheartedly understand why he made the choice, the message that his choice sends is that making it in a White institution is a higher standard than what he had already accomplished. This wasn’t about a salary supposedly. It wasn’t about him supposedly. It wasn’t about what many perceive as his purpose to the Black community. It was about making it in a world dominated by White Americans according to Mr. Sanders. It was about changing the landscape where 70% of the players are Black, but less than 5% of the head coaches are.
So, I wonder if Mr. Sanders asked Colorado who they had interviewed before contacting him. Did he inquire about other Black coaches who deserved a call? Was there a concern for the broader context of coaches who have put in more years than himself without being offered the same opportunity. I know that this isn’t realistic, but when you say that you’re interested in seeing the landscape change for Black coaches, the accountability falls on your actions as much as your words. We can say the right things about it being bigger than us and God’s at the wheel, et cetera, et cetera. The next step then becomes talking about who you know deserves that opportunity and questioning why they haven’t been considered. Otherwise, I start to question if the motive is simply about oneself.
The truth of the matter is that Deion and most of the U.S. sports world see “the standard” as being White American institutions. Without this standard, there wouldn’t be a reason to leave Jackson State. Unfortunately, we see opportunity to “prove” ourselves through their standard. When the truth is, the standard that we want to live up to is our own. We have to learn to value our own standard which then empowers our youth. The problem for African descendants in America is that we often want to attain the “things/Titles/achievements” of our White counterparts in our pursuit of equity.
However, the thought that the next level is for us is to make these White establishments accept us, we forego the opportunity to make our Black owned/focused institutions the standard. Imagine if every top Black athlete was at HBCUs? Imagine the power that would give not only our institutions, but our young people? The shortsighted idea of obtaining a top position at a White university isn’t the achievement that proves our ability to reach those heights. Deion was in a position of changing the landscape of collegiate sports. Had he remained at Jackson State and empowered every HBCU to attract the top athletes would completely change collegiate sports in the United States. Imagine a German athlete going to a HBCU because of a coach like Sanders? Imagine international students of all ethnicities going to HBCUs as much as they do to Division I universities throughout the country?
Since he did not stay, we are back to the same problem that I see in the corporate world – one person’s success is only one at a time. You see, there have been successful Black CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. There have also been Black leaders in government. These are what I like to call one-and-dones. There may be others and opportunities afforded in the future, but there is nothing normal about these achievements. These are the outliers. These are the exceptions that even White America can’t deny. At the same time, White America has no more changed than the condition of the Black community.
The goal isn’t to create this Black community that is separate, but equal. The goal is to create a Black community that is equal without assimilation, a Black community that is every bit as important as any White community, a Black community that builds on its success by supporting and lifting up as many people as we can at the same time – not one at a time. If you haven’t noticed, White America isn’t really ready to bring everyone up no matter who it is. The system is designed to give one enough hope and belief in the system that they aren’t challenged to even think that broader success is an option. When in reality, there’s room for everyone at the top, but it would require a change in recognizing the “standard.” The goal is to create a society where your value isn’t related to White America, your value is simply related to who you are.
I thought that Deion was setting a standard of Black success that was undeniable and independent of White America. He was on a path that showcased Black achievement without apology. He had a freedom that I know 100% won’t be the same in Colorado. Ironically, his move to Colorado really makes White universities even stronger and not HBCUs. They can take our best and brightest and continue to prosper for not only those in power, but their own youth. While at the same time, they can tote that they hired a great Black coach and have a desire for equity and inclusion.
There is no doubt that Deion will be authentically himself, but the city itself isn’t tied to the Black community. The university will never be a promoter of Black individualism and promotion of Black ideologies without a White perspective. Their city won’t have the complexity of tainted public drinking water in the state capital. The Deion that we saw at Jackson State won’t be seen again. He may succeed and he may bring some folks along for the ride, but the difference of doing it in accordance to “achieving the American dream” is like a side-car on a motorcycle instead of a bus. He was on the bus with all of us and decided the fancier ride was going to be more important. I hope that he is right, but history tells me something else. He might get there faster than anyone else, but not enough of “us” will get to enjoy the ride. And those of us who do enjoy the ride might as well be cheerleaders in the stands because we won’t be on the field with him.