Let’s talk about Julius Randle and the thumbs down

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Essentially, if we’re looking at a sports team that we support as a product through purchasing tickets and merchandise and investing our time and energy, why are the consumers of such a product expected to stick around with a smile on their faces through shit results?

Of course, it’s not boiled down to that so simplistically, for one, an enormous part of the popularity of sports is that it’s not just a product. The teams we love are part of our identities, and the “rain or shine” aspect is a huge part of what fans see as culturally acceptable. “Bandwagon fans” are shit on regularly for the crime of investing their time, interest, and money in a product that they know is going to succeed, but we all know that’s not it. It’s that we don’t see them as having real loyalty, of crawling through the mud with your team on a down streak until they finally see the light of day on the other side. It’s easy to be a bandwagon fan, so does that mean that consumers of the sports product should expect their investment to be met with days, weeks, or years of difficulty and frustration?

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The thing is, there’s no real ROI in the product of sports, aside from bragging rights and that on-top-of-the-world feeling you get when your team wins. Which is why that comparison from Twitter doesn’t necessarily work. At a restaurant, at the very least, you’re presumably consuming a bodily necessity in food and drink. In return for money, you’re getting fed, which we need to do to stay alive. Does it have to be food from that specific restaurant? No, but in sports, we’re consuming a wholly unnecessary product. It’s fully a choice — not only the decision to support your team, but to become invested in sports at all.

Look, I get it. I’m a Cubs fan. I attended nearly every Notre Dame game of the Charlie Weis era. It’s not fun to see your team lose, and you do sort of expect something better. And it’s totally normal to have a disappointed or angry or frustrated human reaction to your team failing to be better. But I’m not sure that taking that anger and frustration out on the athletes — the real-life human beings in front of you — is necessarily the way to go.

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A similar situation went down this summer when Mets players Javier Baez and Francisco Lindor gave the crowd a thumbs down after scoring. In a press conference following the incident, Baez said, “We’re not machines. We’re going to struggle seven times out of 10. It just feels bad when…I strike out and get booed.”

And yes, I know that they make millions upon millions and we don’t feel bad for them for getting booed and all that. I think the fans have a right to express their emotions surrounding a sport, which is, in many ways, an extremely emotional product that we consume. At the very least, what we receive from our consumption of sports is a wide variety of emotions that rely heavily on how your favorite team performs on a given day. There’s also that sense of the “we” in sports fandom — you identify strongly with your team and that identity is visible and vulnerable to those around you. If your team performs poorly, your friends and acquaintances and coworkers are going to turn to you to poke fun or talk shit or ask the tough questions. By investing in one fandom or another, you become an extension of that team or program to the people who you interact with in your daily life.

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However, the athletes are only one part of a much larger production system that surrounds sports, and while we can take to Twitter to express our anger with coaches, GMs, presidents, owners, and the like, the only people we’re really granted personal access to are the athletes. The booing is, presumably, directed toward all levels of an organization for failing to meet expectations, but the people physically using their bodies and doing their best to work toward success are the ones who have the misfortune of hearing it. I mean, for God’s sake, I was at a college football game this fall where the home crowd booed their own starting quarterback for coming back in to replace the backup. Is the jeering directed toward the coaching decision in that case? Probably, but some 23-year-old playing for no money who will probably never see the NFL instead hears tens of thousands of people booing him off his own field.

There’s no real conclusion on this, but it’s an interesting thing to think about. To answer my earlier questions, I think that Knicks fans have a right to express their frustrations, and while it’s not classy to boo your own team, it’s also their prerogative as invested fans. They could exist without the team, but the team couldn’t exist without them, so they do have a certain level of power there. But Randle was also well within his rights to come back at them. I mean, come on, he’s a person, not some indestructible god. He’s a dude getting booed by the people who — within the culture of American sports, at least, whether you agree with the expectation or not — are expected to support him and his team.

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In my opinion, the fans owe him respect as a human being, but don’t necessarily owe anything to the organization they support. On the other hand, the organization doesn’t owe the fans success, as the fans are at complete liberty as to whom they support, but they do owe the fans an effort, at least. I’m not sure how the restaurant metaphor works in there as it’s hard to compare anything to the consumption of such a unique aspect of our culture. Either way, the Knicks won the game. 

The Coach Prime Predicament: Why Deion Sanders’ success at Jackson State is a slippery slope for HBCUs

The racists and “progressives” had a field day with this one as they were unable to conceal their prejudice — as the fear of “what will we do if all the Black players start going to Black schools” began to seep into their psyche.

I was more surprised that FSU was even able to recruit someone of Hunter’s talent given their current circumstances and lack of success over the last few seasons. But that’s a story for another day.

Nevertheless, it was just another example of the spotlight that Sanders is bringing to HBCUs. On Saturday, JSU met South Carolina State University in the Cricket Celebration Bowl — the Black College National Championship Game — at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta as the game was played on ABC in front of the first sellout crowd in the game’s history.

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In a year in which Sanders’ presence, antics, and words have put JSU and HBCU football on arguably their biggest platform — the Tigers got obliterated by the Bulldogs for the world to see, falling 31-10 in a game in which the greatest cornerback of all time’s secondary got repeatedly manhandled.

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“South Carolina State kicked our butts,” said Sanders after the game. “Every way, every fashion. Out-physicaled us. Out threw us. Much more disciplined than us. And I feel like we were overconfident, and overlooked them as if they were just going to hand us the game.”

It was a week of extraordinary highs and devastating lows for Sanders as he took home the Eddie Robinson coaching award this year, while his son — Shedeur — became the first HBCU player to win the Jerry Rice award, as JSU completed one of its best seasons in program history at 11-2.

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But, is it worth it?

Do the positives outweigh all the negatives that have taken place since Sanders took the job in Jackson?

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I’ll let you decide. But, first, let’s take a look at them.

The Good

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The Bad

  • Sanders works for Barstool, arguably the most racist, homophobic, and misogynistic sports site on the web. He said that God told him to go there, as if he was Moses.
  • A month before Sanders was announced as JSU’s newest coach at a pep rally in the middle of a pandemic that put multiple people at risk just to celebrate his arrival, he attacked players that were choosing their health and opting out of sports due to COVID-19. “All Players OPTING out in all sports PLEASE BELIEVE the game will go on without u. This is a business & don’t u EVER forget that. There’s NO ONE that’s bigger than the game itself. Only the ref, umps & officials are that important that u can’t play without them. NOT YOU! #Truth,” he tweeted.
  • After defeating Edward Waters College 53-0 in their season opener in the spring, the performance that JSU’s players put on was hijacked by Sanders as he made the postgame press conference all about how his clothes and valuables were stolen during the game — only to find out that they hadn’t been. “This is about to be the best news conference you’ve ever seen,” Sanders told reporters, according to Sports Illustrated — as it was all about him, as usual. A month earlier, Sanders reportedly had a boombox stolen from his car. Days later, Sanders posted a video showing that the radio had been returned. The only reason we knew about any of these incidents is that Sanders just had to be the center of attention and tell us.
  • In an attempt to drum up convenient outrage, in May, Sanders took to social media to share his disbelief that there weren’t any HBCU players taken in the 2021 NFL Draft. He forgot to mention that the pandemic ravaged HBCU football in 2020, that this was the ninth time since 2000 that an HBCU player wasn’t selected, and that in the Sanders’ family new-found love for HBCUs that of the 20-plus schools that were recruiting his son — Shedeur — none of them were HBCUs. Shedeur was committed to Florida Atlantic until his father was on an HBCU payroll.
  • Sanders was in the national spotlight on SWAC Media Day after he walked out of a media availability because a reporter called him by his name. “You don’t call Nick Saban, ‘Nick.’ Don’t call me Deion,” Sanders told Nick Suss of the Clarion-Ledger.
  • On that very same Media Day, Sanders had a Black reporter banned from covering his team because he knew that he and his team were going to be asked some tough questions due to a report that came out earlier in the week detailing how one of his most coveted recruits was charged with assaulting a woman.
  • In September, Sanders took issue with HBCUs taking part in “buy games.” “We’re supposed to lose by all accounts,” he said. “We don’t supposed to be in this game. We getting paid to get beat, right? We’re getting paid to get beat. We gonna see how that works out.” Getting paid a large sum of money to get beat up on by a better opponent is something that Sanders’ ego can’t take. He doesn’t realize how important “buy games” are to HBCUs as that money goes a long way in HBCU athletic departments.
  • In November, it was reported that Sanders “impressed,” as he was an alleged candidate for the TCU head coaching job before his first full season at JSU was over. Less than two months earlier, Sanders had claimed that he was “locked-in” at JSU. He’s still never publicly denied that talks didn’t happen between him and TCU.
  • Earlier this month, it was revealed that Sanders brought in JSU alum and current Instagram model Brittany Renner to speak to his team during homecoming so that she could “give them some game.” Sanders is a believer in the problematic stereotype that women are always at fault when male athletes find themselves in compromising situations with women, although men usually pursue these women and make these willful decisions on their own.
  • According to the Clarion-Ledger:

Quaydarius Davis, an incoming four-star wide receiver from Dallas, was expected to plead guilty on a charge of ‘assault causing bodily injury family violence,’ a misdemeanor in Texas, stemming from an incident in March.

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The Black coach at the Black school who claims to be about the uplifting of Black people got a Black reporter banned for doing his job. That’s not supposed to happen at HBCUs.

Think about that.

Due to the fallout from the “racial awakening” of 2020 and the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, it has become cool — and convenient — to finally start caring about Black lives. And at the tip of that iceberg is the trend of “supporting” HBCUs — for the time being.

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In the summer of 2020, Makur Maker became the highest-ranked basketball recruit to ever choose an HBCU when he committed to Howard University. ESPN said it was a game changer. A year later, Maker all but blamed Howard for being the reason why he didn’t get drafted.

This past summer, Master P claimed that he was going to get his son — Hercy Miller — a $2 million NIL deal as he was going to play college basketball at an HBCU, Tennessee State. A few months later, Master P was blaming HBCUs and Tennessee State for their lack of medical resources, as his son was transferring after one season.

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And now, Sanders, a man attempting to be a savior for HBCU football, is on the biggest platform of them all with a history that includes the closure of a high school named after him — Prime Prep — which destroyed the lives of multiple student-athletes due to the way it negatively affected their educational futures, which was highlighted in a Washington Post article last year. Sanders is also the guy whose last job before taking over at JSU was as offensive coordinator for a Texas high school program that was so corrupt that it got kicked out of the state’s Association of Private and Parochial Schools after a slew of probations and violations.

Again I ask, is it worth it?

Is the attention that people like Maker, Master P, and Sanders have recently brought to HBCUs worth the drama and baggage that comes with them? What’s the point of building a million-dollar program if it’s going to be in foreclosure in a few years?

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That’s where I see JSU in the not-too-distant future, as I predict multiple NCAA violations during Sanders’ tenure, and instead of being there to deal with the fallout, he’ll more than likely have already bolted for a “better” job at a PWI — predominantly white institution.

Every few decades, HBCUs are given a platform to be celebrated like no other when Corporate America remembers that we exist. And right now, due to Sanders and others, we’re at a point where some HBCU fans and alumni are beginning to adopt the same mentality that is prevalent and accepted at PWIs, in which the actions of the school’s football coach don’t matter as long as things are going well because winning outweighs character.

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That’s not why HBCUs were created, while we have survived — and thrived — on how we can endure.

The HBCU experience can’t be fully explained, it has to be lived. And in this pivotal moment, too many people who didn’t attend HBCUs — or know how they function — have too much say in how they should operate. Sanders is not an HBCU alum, he just works at one. And that makes him no different than the people who only care about us when it’s Homecoming season, or when they want to look cool in front of their boss and mention that they have a friend or family member that’s attended an HBCU during a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) meeting.

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What cannot be questioned is the spotlight that Deion Sanders has brought to Jackson State University and HBCU football. But, what needs to be examined is if the value of HBCU culture should be lowered for a man that will only be around as long as it’s in his best interest, all because he’s providing temporary exposure.

The first surprise of the NIL era has arrived, and it’s Deion Sanders poaching No. 1 football recruit Travis Hunter

It’s not as if Jackson State has never had high profile talent at its football program. When Ole Miss brought in the program’s first Black player 1971, Walter Payton went to Jackson State and would go on to become one of the greatest football players of all time. HBCUs do still put talent into the NFL, even though they don’t send as much ever since Power 5 football fully integrated. As of cutdown day — Sept. 1, 2021 — there were 18 players from HBCUs on NFL rosters, including two-time first-team All Pro linebacker Darius Leonard of the Indianapolis Colts, who was drafted in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft.

While there are still good players at HBCUs, a ready-made talent like Hunter is unusual. Those players normally fall through the cracks, or are late bloomers. Hunter could’ve started from Day 1 at Florida State or any other major college football program.

Sanders’ personality and status as one of the most influential figures in the history of football likely played a large role in Hunter’s decision, it’s likely there were some above board financial reasons that heavily factored into it. Yahoo’s Pete Thamel tweeted out that it is believed NIL money was a major reason for Hunter changing his commitment. Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde tweeted out that he’s heard quite a bit of discussion about NIL at HBCUs.

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For those who complained about NIL money damaging competitive balance in college sports, check out the little guy. Sure, Sanders is plugged in and the program has a relationship with Barstool Sports (original reports of Hunter signing an endorsement deal with Barstool are reportedly false) but there is no way to paint this as the rich getting richer.

It’s going to take a while for the reverberations from this plate shift to settle to see what this means for the future of college sports. What does this mean for programs who are even bigger than Jackson State but still not considered premiere? What about Houston, DePaul, or even St. John’s? The Johnnies play in the media capital of the world. If they really want to get back near the top of men’s college basketball for the first time in nearly 30 years, Jackson State appears to have shown them the way.

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This way, while not perfect, is still better than what college sports were in the past — universities pumping money like they do air for the balls into athletic facilities and dorms for the athletes. That’s pulling the Silicon Valley move of making the workspace as inviting as possible so the employees will stay longer, except, for college athletes, none of the Silicon Valley money the coaches and administrators get.

So far this new era of college athletics is athletes getting better compensation and top-level talent going to places they normally would not. It appears that NIL is working out just fine.