Whether it’s suggesting he’d pay to ensure that football jerseys featured player names or demanding that HBCU games are consistently televised on easily accessible platforms, Deion Sanders has certainly attempted to wield his voice and resources to influence change.
The second-year Jackson State coach has transformed the football program and the city where the school residents in the 14 months since being hired.
JSU is currently 10-0 and went unbeaten against non-FBS opponents for the first time in school history.
Sanders and his staff crafted one of the best rosters in the country that’s made it all possible, boasting the No. 55 recruiting class for 2021.
The excitement and productivity have led to millions of dollars generated for the university and city of Jackson.
The Pied Piper of 1400 J.R. Lynch Street, charged the fanbase to support the team with butts in the seat ahead of its homecoming game versus Alabama State.
On Oct. 16, 53,578 fans showed up at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.
And ahead of its annual in-state rivalry game Saturday against SWAC power Alcorn State, the entire athletic department — galvanized by Sanders — put on a promotional blitz encouraging the entire city throughout the week to pack “The Vet” with 60,000 committed bodies.
Then some 58,892 attended, which fell just shy of the school record.
“I’m happy (with) the whole Jackson State ‘Thee I Love’ — 58,000, 60,000 fans — with what transpired this whole year,” said Sanders in the postgame press conference after the Tigers completed its perfect SWAC season.
For Sanders, this mission goes beyond football. When asked whether he was committed to Jackson State amid reports he was being considered for the vacant TCU job, Sanders reaffirmed personal and professional obligations to the community and the program.
“How I can bless the multitudes and God ain’t finished with me yet,” said Sanders. “How I can help the next man up, the next sister raise her kids whose daddy ain’t doing his. How I can bring us together, unite us, how I can stop the dern killing in Jackson. How we can have a wonderful weekend and have 60,000 black folks as well as white folks and Hispanic folks and not have one killing.
‘Doing great things to help this conference’
While the Deion effect can be measured at Jackson State and within the confines of the city limits, what about the SWAC and the rest of the HBCU football world?
“Everything he does is spotlighted and he’s only doing great things to help this conference and built up and trying to bring us better athletes,” Alabama A&M coach Connell Maynor said Monday. “Trying to get us three, four, and five stars. He’s doing it and so we have to compete with him so we have to try to do it.”
Maynor provided the anecdote that Jackson State prioritizing quality training tables for its players resulted in Alabama A&M officials upgrading its own dining facilities and options that go along with it.
“He’s trying to get names on back of jerseys, stay in the best hotels, fly in the best airplanes,” he said. Everything he’s trying to do, we’ve been trying to do for years but he’s Deion Sanders.”
When Alcorn State was in need of athletic trainers earlier this season after being forced to cancel practice due to a lack of them, Sanders got wind of the situation and offered assistance.
“I wish we could have the relationship that we could call each other because we have how many hospitals in this city (Jackson),” said Sanders at the time. “I probably would have did it myself … sent you several trainers.”
Fred McNair — the Alcorn State coach at the center of the two-week controversy back in September — acknowledged how appreciative he was of the gesture.
“I didn’t contact him about that, but you always appreciate the things people try to do for you regardless of the institution or his obligation to do those things as well,” said McNair.
Sanders using his social media muscle and gifted mouth — however unrefined and unfiltered at times — has gotten HBCUs in mainstream conversations, said Florida A&M coach Willie Simmons.
“I know he gets a lot of criticism from some people who might not agree with how he does things,” Simmons said. “But as a coach who watched for a long time us get left out of conversations and not have a seat at the table, we’re starting to be there in many regards. I think it’s a testament to him and some other people. He’s not alone in that fight but he’s definitely been a positive influence.”