Revenge and Tradition

When you hear the names Deion Sanders and Eddie Robinson, you think about the absolute best that Black college football has to offer. What the two men offered after last Saturday’s homecoming game between Jackson State and Alabama State was high-quality beef.

According to reports and viral video, there was some hand fighting between the two during the post-game handshake. Personally, I preferred the moves at the line during the Orange Blossom Classic between Chad Ochocinco and Coach Prime, but I’m a Rattler. The real excitement could be found in the postgame commentaries from Robinson (not related to thee Eddie Robinson) and Prime:

“(Prime) ain’t SWAC. I’m SWAC, he ain’t SWAC. He’s in the conference, doing a great job, can’t knock that, got a great team, his son should be up for the Heisman Trophy, I love Shedeur, great player, I love what he’s doing for the conference. …But you’re not going to come here and disrespect me and my team and my school and then want a bro hug. Shake my hand and get the hell off.”

Prime’s response?

“I’m not one to come back the next day and you going to pick up the phone and you going to apologize and we straight,” he said. “No, not whatsoever. You meant that mess. And one of the comments that kind of disturbed me out of all the comments, that I’m not SWAC. Who is? I got time today. Who is SWAC if I ain’t SWAC? Who is SWAC if I ain’t SWAC?”

Whether Coach Sanders is SWAC or not is as ironic as it is unimportant. Employing exclusivity against a man whose nickname is Prime is intriguing and yes, petty. With that said, I like to think that Black folks are much more adept at being familial than we are at gatekeeping, and what makes HBCUs a safe haven for all Black folks is that such institutions do more to welcome all people instead of warding them off. It’s not a perfect practice, but it fits our sense of hospitality.

With that said, there’s no disputing the spotlight that Prime’s brand has placed on HBCU football, which is a good thing. At the same time, Prime’s brand is a reflection of the man himself. He’s never been humble, only noble. I mean that in the elitist sense. Must be the money, yes? Is he at Jackson in the spirit of uplift, or the spirit of nepotism? Why bring in Barstool, a reported racist entity, to cover a potential revival in Black college sports, instead of a historically Black outlet? These are the tough questions that I asked quietly when Prime was hired, because I wanted his presence at Jackson to be about more than his brand. I knew that Black colleges were in crisis and that our fate is larger than football.

I think about our fate when I hear terms like “money game” and when folks derisively speak about HBCUs as being lesser. Black pride is a beautiful thing. It’s also an understandably sensitive thing. When you make comments such as those Prime made at halftime of the JSU-Grambling matchup and those before the Bama State game, conflict is inevitable, either spoken or unspoken.

Again, Black pride is a beautiful thing, because it is the start of Black power. We love greatness. We manufacture it, even if we aren’t always able to monetize it. In the current tone and lexicon of being “him,” we are THEM. And we’ve always been seen as them, even in this hellhole of a country.

I was reminded of that when a white man who spent the better part of his life exploiting young Black male collegiate athletes had the nerve to speak on reparations the same day as The Handshake. The unspoken part of Tommy Tuberville’s comments are that there are former and present coaches who share those same sentiments, not just about reparations, but about Black people. It’s why I resent respectability politics, whether it’s “bootstraps” gibberish or taking a proud logo off of a helmet as symbolism. Our morality shouldn’t be based on the white gaze or white supremacy. The souls of Black folk represent the soul and conscience of America.

There’s a lot at stake for Black folks as it relates to our colleges, and the role of athletics and communications within that framework. Thee Eddie Robinson understood that:

THEE Eddie Robinson.

Hard times are here, and we should be more courageous, if not outright radical. Six students at FAMU are suing the State of Florida in the name of land-grant “reparations,” a gesture that should be matched by every land-grant HBCU in the country. 

Turning pride into power in this way eliminates “HBCU level” and “money game” rhetoric because it challenges the status quo of college disparities. Truly, this effort is bigger than “winning and losing” because it not only holds oppressive forces to account, it encourages Black people to organize.

When people talk about Black colleges, this is my expectation. And when it comes to protecting and preserving Black schools, I’m of the mind of legendary FAMU coach Jake Gaither – be “mobile, hostile and agile.”

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