If you are going to be a know-it-all, the first thing you should know is your limitations. Venturing into areas where you really don’t “know it all” generally ends with significant embarrassment. My limitation is sports. I’ve never been much of an athlete – ask anybody with whom I have played golf or pick up basketball. I avoid predicting the results of sporting contests like the plague. I still have favorites. Most often chosen on the basis of historical loyalty rather than current performance. But the truth of the matter is I couldn’t tell you today the strengths or weakness of any team, including my favorites. I wouldn’t know a “nickelback” from a “diamondback” including whether any particular team used them – nor would I particularly care.
But be that as it may, what I generally know is people and the attitudes, capabilities, predictabilities, strengths and weaknesses of them as human beings. And I know that they are as present in athletes as anywhere else. Which brings us to Colorado Coach Deion Sanders. In the normal course of things I don’t have much truck with show boaters and braggers, but I do make an exception for those who can match their accomplishments with their mouths. I learned that way back in college when a young boxer – Cassius Clay – came on the scene. He seemed to be all mouth until the bell rang and then he was an astonishing athlete – fast, powerful, and intelligent. He, in fact, was The Greatest and as Muhammad Ali he dominated heavy weight boxing.
I put Mr. Sanders in that same category. He was Neon Deion Sanders. He was Prime Time Sanders. He was a phenomenal cornerback for a variety of National Football League teams AND played Major League Baseball. He is the only athlete to appear in both a World Series game and the Super Bowl. Earvin “Magic” Johnson, a Hall of Fame basketball player himself, has declared that Mr. Sanders, along with NBA All Star Allen Iverson, are the only two athletes who could have starred as both major league football and basketball players. Mr. Sanders was a neon-lighted, prime time superstar and he was not shy about embracing the spotlight it brought him. And all the while he ran his mouth and then backed it up with extraordinary skill.
After retirement Mr. Sanders went back to college, finished his education and declared himself ready for his second act – coaching. He was highly successful at Jackson State – twice winning an appearance in the national title game for Division 1 schools. And now he is the new football coach for the University of Colorado Buffaloes. The opportunity for success on a national level stands before him. Here, his flashy history, his sports successes and his non-stop loquacity puts him, once again, in the media and sports writers spotlights. Should Mr. Sanders fail, it will be a spectacular and brutal fall from grace. And should he succeed he will be lionized – again – for another chapter in his life.
But here is the point of this column. Football fans, sports writers, arm-chair quarterbacks and Sanders’ haters are going to judge Mr. Sanders by the scoreboard only – wins and losses, conference titles and national bowl successes. And in doing so they will completely miss what Mr. Sanders will use to self-measure his success.
A September 20, 2023, article in the Daily Caller by Mary Rooke noted:
“Former Dallas Cowboys superstar Deion Sanders is taking an old-school approach to coaching that will serve to make men out of the players on his team.
“’No one expects anything of men anymore. Our society loves to complain about the lack of purpose men have while doing nothing to help them reclaim their masculinity. Collectively, we decided that men aren’t worthy of our care and attention. If they grow up to be good men, great. If not, great because it fits the narrative that all men are inherently evil, just some are better at hiding it than others.’
“Sanders is working to undo this reality for the players he coaches. In his first meeting with his Colorado football team, Coach Prime set the expectations for the season, including demanding his players live up to specific codes of honor, work ethic and professionalism. Sanders isn’t just giving them a gift that will win them championships. He is setting them up with the skills needed to succeed in any high-pressure situation.”
And Mr. Sanders himself seems to interject this goal incessantly in his media interviews as well as his guidance to his team. But even at that, there are those that feel the need to limit his goals by suggesting that this is just a message to be served up to young black men by another black man. They justify this by noting that Mr. Sanders’ team is composed primarily of young black men – seventy five percent. (African-Americans make up about 12.1 percent of America’s population.) And yet the disproportionate number of blacks in the National Football League (about 70 percent) and National Basketball Association (about 73 percent) suggests that Mr. Sanders’ Buffaloes look like the norm. That fact suggests that those seeking to limit Mr. Sanders goal on the basis of racial preference are simply full of it.* Why there is a disproportionate number of black men and women excelling at sports is more likely to involve a variety of socio-economic theories but in the end, like most success in sports, it would appear there is a greater concentration of young black men who seek recognition and success through sports than others – in other words they try harder.
And that is precisely what Mr. Sanders counsels constantly: You have to want it to succeed. You have to try harder to succeed. You have to believe that you can succeed to succeed. And Mr. Sanders preaches this to all of his players regardless of the color of their skin. Mr. Sanders on Instagram:
“What Will you do with the time God has blessed you with today? Today is the only time you’ll ever have to Take advantage of this moment. Be present & Dominate today! “
And there is another aspect to Mr. Sanders quest for success – the building of great and successful young men. Ms. Rooke continued in her article:
“His advice works for men because he lives it. He is heavily involved in his children’s lives. Two of his sons, Shilo and Shedeur Sanders, play under his command at the University of Colorado Boulder. Oftentimes, professional athletes come from low-income, broken families, with their mother acting as head of the house. Likely, these men have never been required to hold themselves with integrity. Coach Prime is stepping in to break the cycle. He wants to give his players a chance to build a tangible legacy by teaching them to live up to their potential.
“’I have a problem when young men, with everything in front of them, don’t believe,’ Sanders said. ‘That’s a problem for me. A tremendous problem for me because you can rescue your momma, father, friends, your loved ones, the homies, [and] anyone who looked out for you. You have the ability and opportunity to do that, but you gotta believe.’
“He was speaking to the team about their complacency. They were failing because they stopped putting in the work. On day one, the team was put on notice. Either you let the competition drive you to improve, or you flounder like a dying fish in a poisoned pond. The smart men in the room will see and take the chance being given to them.
“Sanders isn’t asking anything out of the ordinary. He wants his players to treat people with dignity by showing up on time, doing the work and living up to the agreed expectations on and off the field. It’s not enough to make plays in the game. His players are required to act with integrity and contribute to the community positively outside of the game. Coach Prime wants his players to have control over their emotions as strong men always do.”
For those of you seeking to marginalize Mr. Sanders, find a single thing in these admonitions that is not equally applicable to young men of all races**. Much of what Sanders is saying are historical virtues that society itself seems to overlook or neuter today. They are what made America great. So thank you Coach Prime – you have set an extraordinary goal and we hope that you are as successful this time as you have been in the past. The football scores, the conference titles and the playoff bowls matter, but the making of strong young men is significantly more important and the measure of that will come without fanfare, neon lights, or sports analogies. It will come with a cadre of strong young men who will help build on the successes of those that came before them.
* There is also the distinct possibility that Mr. Sanders’ goals and methods are at odds with the liberal/progressive thoughts about victimhood, monolithic racial thought and government dependency and thus he needs to be marginalized.
** All of this is equally applicable to young women. Advocates for women initially eschewed the concept of victimhood. They chose instead to emphasize hard work, speaking out, and acknowledged that women may have to work twice as hard to be viewed as competitive in the workplace. As we have told our granddaughters, “There was once a young girl who thought she could, and so she went out and did.”