Deion Sanders is not a beggar. But he’s not a builder, either. He’s a mercenary for hire, serially auctioning himself to the highest bidder and committed builder. It’s a lucrative line of work, if fate blesses you with an unusually rare set of skills. Sanders won the genetics lottery in a country so rich that it irresponsibly lavishes performers with bounties best given to innovators, educators, and humanitarians.
As an athlete across two sports, Sanders functioned much like a big-booty Instagram model, selling himself to whichever billionaire builder slid into his DMs. George Steinbrenner (Yankees), Ted Turner (Braves), Marge Schott (Reds), Peter Magowan (San Francisco Giants), Rankin Smith (Falcons), Edward DeBartolo (49ers), Jerry Jones (Cowboys), Daniel Snyder (Redskins), and Steve Bisciotti (Ravens) all paid the cost to be Prime’s temporary boss.
Deion has always been a rolling stone, a tool in someone else’s plan to build something sustainable. Popular culture celebrated his wanderlust, materialism, and his sincere desire to proselytize those values to the next generation. The rap music industry welcomed Prime Time to its bosom with an enthusiasm usually reserved for drug dealers and gangbangers. Corporations pleaded with Prime to pitch their products.
The greatest sellsword in the history of entertainment became an American idol, an evangelist for the pleasures money provides. He legitimized his service to mammon with down-home spirituality, preaching a prosperity gospel to young athletes that made Creflo Dollar and Joel Osteen swell with pride.
But let me stop. I have little interest in denigrating and demonizing Deion Sanders. He’s a well-intentioned, pampered, elite jock. He reflects a culture designed and maintained by builders and globalists. Deion doesn’t drive culture.
And there’s nothing inherently wrong with mercenary work. The right builder can hire the right mercenaries to erect and protect institutions that properly edify the masses.
Again, Deion is a sellsword. He’ll work for anybody, any time, anywhere. He’s proven that.
He left Jackson State for Colorado because we (black people) lack the resolve to build our own. We’d rather beg for diversity, inclusion, and equity at white institutions than determine our own success at black institutions.
We’d rather make movies about a black Wall Street in the 1920s than build one in 2020.
For the right price, Deion Sanders would still be at Jackson State University. Had a handful of allegedly pro-black athletes, rappers, and entertainers come together to financially support what Deion was building at JSU, Deion would still be the head coach at the historically black university.
But that’s not what we do. LeBron James would rather buy a tiny stake in a foreign soccer team than invest $10 million in a historically black university. Jay-Z would rather partner with Jeff Bezos in a bid to overthrow Dan Snyder as the owner of the Washington Commanders than invest $10 million in a black college. Stephen A. Smith and Shannon Sharpe would rather use their platforms to justify the suspension of Kyrie Irving and criticize Jerry Jones for a 60-year-old picture than use those platforms to rally financial support for Jackson State. Oprah Winfrey would rather build schools in Africa than finance clean water in Jackson, Mississippi.
We’d rather beg than build.
I’m not talking about Deion Sanders. He sold his sword to Jackson State with the right intentions. The problem is the builders never showed up. In a two-year, three-season stint, Sanders led the Jackson State Tigers to back-to-back SWAC titles. This past season, the Tigers finished 12-0, despite a citywide water crisis that limited the team’s access to safe drinking water. Deion and his players were occasionally forced to bathe in a hotel swimming pool.
Deion Sanders presented black college football with an incredible opportunity to build something elite and sustainable. He attracted cameras, attention, massive crowds, and talent to the SWAC. He upgraded a few facilities at Jackson State.
What he couldn’t do was inspire the alleged pro-black backers to seize the moment and invest in an infrastructure for long-term success. Beggars don’t build. They beg. They complain about what the white man won’t do. They support #hashtag campaigns about black girl magic and black lives mattering. They serve their own self-interest.
It’s a byproduct of matriarchal, shortsighted leadership. I’m not blaming women. I’m blaming men for surrendering leadership to women and adopting a feminized mindset.
Booker T. Washington showed us the importance of building schools and institutions. Madam C.J. Walker became rich selling cosmetics and hair-care products to black female consumers. Women consume; men build.
We can chastise Deion for giving up, moving out of the 'hood for a cushy job in college football’s suburbs. What would you do? Remember, Deion is a mercenary. He’s not a beggar or a builder. He sacrificed his coaching salary, giving most of the money back to Jackson State to pay his assistants.
The day of his coaching debut at Jackson in February 2021, a burglar robbed his office. There are rumors that Sanders and his sons were the victims of several robberies.
In his meeting with Colorado players, Sanders oddly praised the lack of crime in Boulder. What would make him do that? Crime in Jackson is the obvious answer.
Sanders needed help in Jackson, the capital city of America’s poorest state. Jackson is 78% black; 20% of its citizens live below the poverty line. The city’s crime rate rivals America’s major cities.
Boulder is 88% white. Less than 1% of its population is black. It’s a wealthy city with little crime. It’s a much safer environment for Sanders’ kids, including his quarterback son. Roughly 600 of the school’s nearly 40,000 students are black.
Building requires a level of sacrifice, commitment, and vision we can’t seem to muster. Begging requires nothing beyond the tolerance of a guilt-ridden benefactor.
Years ago, my good friend and mentor Jim Brown told me that the biggest obstacle to black progress is a habit of “buying what we want and begging for what we need.”
Rappers and athletes would rather buy gold chains and diamond earrings to floss in front of the poor than elevate communities and institutions that serve the poor.
From September 2020 to December 2022, Deion Sanders offered his sword for a higher calling than money. To no one’s real surprise, we failed to build upon it.
Victims don’t see themselves as builders. We fantasize about white saviors, reparations, and gold chains. We dream about moving up and moving out.
Beggars aspire to be mercenaries, never builders.