When Deion Sanders departed Jackson State University for the University of Colorado, it engendered strong reactions amongst Black folk. Some believed Sanders should have remained at JSU to finish what he started while others asserted Sanders’ right to determine the best course for his career.
At the heart of this debate was the HBCU and the obligation that Black people (administration, alumni, or folks like Sanders) have to sustain it.
A few months ago, it was announced that Ed Reed, another NFL Hall of Fame defensive back, would become the next head football coach at Bethune-Cookman University. However, that will not happen due to the university changing its mind—choosing not to meet Reed’s demands/requests. But the undeniable catalyst for the university’s decision was a rant by Reed on Instagram criticizing the administration for being unprepared for his arrival, for his office not being clean, and for having the wrong kind of mentality to run a Black school and care about Black children.
Whether or not Reed meant to, he insinuated that Deion Sanders was correct in his assessment of HBCUs in general as to how they were administered and was justified in his choice of leaving. Reed later apologized for his rant on social media following a backlash from Black folk and possibly the university. But the damage was done and the ripple effects of his departure are widespread—to the point where students are speaking out against the university’s decision. Even Roland Martin covered the situation and vowed to get to the bottom of it.
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To be fair, Bethune-Cookman administration is not without its history of problems. Within the last 10 years, the administration is guilty of fiscal mismanagement, overpaying for dorms, executives (including the former president) raising their pay, sketchy dealings with for-profit businesses and turmoil on its board of trustees.
Then there was the whole inviting Betsy DeVos to speak at the commencement, but I digress. Administration of the university was so bad that the school’s accreditor placed the university on probation. In addition, some students have been protesting at the school calling for the removal of its board of trustees.
So, when Ed Reed speaks of poor leadership and a lack of decency and order from the administration, there’s some merit to his assertions. However, Reed made his mistake going public with his comments and concerns.
Athletes, football players especially, are quick to demand that any conflict or problems amongst the team stay amongst the team and out of the public eye. Interestingly, Reed didn’t take that approach with Bethune-Cookman administration. He wasn’t hired yet but criticized his prospective employer. I’m not sure what can be achieved from that other than rescinding an unsigned hire offer—which is what happened.
It is awesome that former Black players (Hall of Famers) want to coach at HBCUs. I also understand that these legends apply the same level of excellence to coaching and working at an HBCU that they did at their craft to make them great players. But the HBCU is not the gridiron and while football teams may need a savior, Black colleges (and Black people) do not.
Reed isn’t wrong for having frustrations with Bethune-Cookman’s administration. However, how he chose to deal with his frustration was wrong, and it came at a cost to him and the university. He’s heartbroken, the players are heartbroken and many students are upset at the situation. The decision was the university’s, but Reed’s undoing is on him.
I hope this is a lesson learned for us all.
Rann Miller is an educator and freelance writer based in New Jersey. His Urban Education Mixtape blog supports urban educators and parents of children attending urban schools. He is the author of “Resistance Stories from Black History for Kids” (Bloom Books for Young Readers) to be released on March 7. Follow him on Twitter @RealRannMiller.