It isn’t enough to paint BLACK LIVES MATTER on three basketball courts somewhere within an amusement park, where a league and two broadcast networks have tried to recoup revenues during a pandemic. Because in a numbing instant, a moment in time unlike any America has experienced, those gyms were abandoned and left eerily silent by one NBA team after another, followed by WNBA, baseball and soccer teams — all unified by the horrors of police brutality in a protest that powerfully frames the only real purpose of sports in 2020.
Never have games been more irrelevant, out of place.
Yet never have the athletes been more important to the direction of a country, a tortured and very sick America. By forcing the postponements of three playoff games and placing the rest of a COVID-19-gnarled season in doubt, NBA players used their influence to shut down a multi-billion-dollar industry in a dizzying domino effect that could — and should — end the folly of conducting seasons amid racial unrest and a medical crisis. The next 68 days will decide the future of a country that is neither safe nor healthy nor proud. Doesn’t it seem off-putting, if not inappropriate and just wrong, to keep force-feeding games every day and night when the Milwaukee Bucks have established a historic mission statement for all sports?
And don’t play again — while assuming the physical and mental health risks related to a still-raging coronavirus — until cops stop shooting Black people. If it requires the cancellations of seasons, well, who really cares given the magnitude of murder-by-bigotry?
“F— THIS MAN!!!! WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT,’’ tweeted LeBron James, front and center at this seminal juncture when athletes must be political, like it or not. Does it surprise you that James and the Los Angeles Lakers, along with the city rival Clippers, voted to cancel the season during a Wednesday night union meeting described as volatile? And that James, according to The Athletic, walked out of the meeting when he was questioned by former teammate Udonis Haslem?
It shouldn’t. Nothing should surprise anyone anymore, including the idea that LeBron would prioritize his growing position in the Democratic Party over a fourth NBA championship.
President Trump wants to watch ballgames at night? Well, he can’t have them — or four more years — because his nation is mired in unprecedented and unimaginable upheaval. Trump won’t condemn the endless carnage in the year of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the toll of racial injustice that includes another victim, Jacob Blake, the 29-year-old Black man paralyzed after a white police officer fired seven shots at him in Kenosha, Wis. So the Bucks, based 40 miles north of the shooting scene and subsequent unrest that left two dead, decided they weren’t coming out of their locker room for Game 5 of a series against the Orlando Magic. This was the 2020 version of an offensive that sports often wields to battle injustice — activism — only the Bucks were daring to jeopardize the future prosperity of the league that feeds them.
Grasping their place in history, the players stayed and talked in their locker room for hours after the postponement, gaining a phone audience with Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. They finally emerged with a statement to the media — the opening portion read by Sterling Brown, himself a victim of police brutality in Milwaukee, where a simple dispute over a parking violation led to his being tased and arrested in 2018. Standing among them: superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Greece native who had been staying quiet politically while picking up his second straight league MVP award.
“The past four months have shed a light on the ongoing racial injustices facing our African-American communities,’’ Brown said. “Citizens around the country have used their voices and platforms to speak out against these wrongdoings. Over the last few days in our home state of Wisconsin, we’ve seen the horrendous video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, and the additional shooting of protestors. Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.’’
Next up was veteran guard George Hill, already on record among NBA players who want the season to be canceled. “When we take the court and represent Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we are expected to play at a high level, give maximum effort and hold each other accountable. We hold ourselves to that standard, and in this moment, we are demanding the same from our lawmakers and law enforcement,’’ he said. “We are calling for justice for Jacob Blake and demand the officers be held accountable. For this to occur, it’s imperative for the state legislature to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform.’’
Within hours, much of the sports world was in lockstep, and the teams that were playing games Wednesday night — such as 20 Major League Baseball clubs not adopting the postponement pushes of the Milwaukee Brewers and five others — should have pondered the message they were sending as a prominent Black player, Jason Heyward, removed himself from the Chicago Cubs’ lineup in protest. He was joined by other MLB players, Black and Caucasian, in a display of solidarity that will be part of sports until, oh, the first Tuesday in November. When Los Angeles Dodgers star Mookie Betts chose not to play, teammates of all races did the same — a marked departure for a sport low on social and racial awareness.
“As a white player on this team, how can we show support? What is something tangible we can do to help our Black brothers on this team?’’ team leader Clayton Kershaw said. “Mookie was great about saying, `If you guys want to play, I support that.’ But we made a collective group decision to not play tonight, to let our voices be heard for standing up for what we believe is right.”
“I’ll always remember this day,’’ said Betts, “and I’ll always remember this team having my back.’’
Four years ago, Colin Kaepernick launched a kneeling protest movement that divided America to its core. The events of an August day in 2020 are tilted toward empathy for the aggrieved, connected to a specific series of shooting tragedies. The Blake shooting has left NBA players helpless in their restrictive campus environment. From the start of this social, health and business experiment, I wondered when they might begin to feel like guinea pigs, or slaves. That crossroads is here, in the form of an emergency Board of Governors meeting Thursday. The players want to effect systemic change, but they feel detached living and working in a Bubble, even with the league-endorsed Black Lives Matter ethos and social justice messages on their jerseys. Hill planted the first seeds of activism Monday when he said, “We can’t do anything. First of all, we shouldn’t have came to this damn place, to be honest. Coming here just took all the focal points off what the issues are.’’
Soon enough, Disney World was the antithesis of the Happiest Place on Earth, as Chris Paul and union leadership invited players and coaches to a volatile ballroom meeting Wednesday night to discuss whether to continue the season. This will remain an ongoing question, and if enough players want to shut down the playoffs, it would be disastrous for a league that has spent $200 million on the Bubble concept in hopes of helping its fraught financial future. It’s possible the league would enact a force majeure clause that could terminate the collective bargaining agreement and lock out the players. Adam Silver, the commissioner renowned for his wokeness, can’t be faulted because of a trigger-happy cop in Kenosha. Nor can anyone fault team owners who have supported the players in their ongoing fight against racism, with Bucks ownership releasing this statement though the players kept owners out of the boycott loop: “We fully support our players and the decision they made. The only way to bring about change is to shine a light on the racial injustices that are happening in front of us. Our players have done that and we will continue to stand alongside them and demand accountability and change.” Yet who can blame the players — especially those with families, even as the league prepared to allow close relatives and friends onto campus — if they prioritize real life over basketball and pop the Money Bubble?
“Right now, our focus shouldn’t be on basketball,’’ said Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics, a team that pondered a boycott days ago. “i understand it’s the playoffs, but we still have a bigger issue, an underlying issue. And the things we’ve tried haven’t been working.’’
Teammate Jaylen Brown said the NBA’s emphasis on social justice has waned during the postseason: “Things have kind of diminished. I’m curious to see in what creative ways that people put their minds together to push these conversations and make me feel more comfortable about playing basketball in the middle of like a lot of things that are going on.”
Said Fred Van Vleet of the Toronto Raptors, another team that pushed for the boycott: “Coming down here, making the choice to play was not supposed to be in vain, but it’s starting to feel like everything we’re doing is just going through the motions and nothing’s really changing. And here we are with another unfortunate incident. … We’ve got to take responsibility as well. Do we actually give a f— about what’s going on, or is it just cool to wear ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the backdrop, or wear it on a T-shirt? Like, what does that really mean? Is it really doing anything? At the end of the day, if we’re going to sit here and talk about making change, then at some point we’re going to have to put our nuts on the line and actually put something up to lose, rather than just money or visibility. I’m just over the media aspect of it. It’s sensationalized, we talk about it every day, that’s all we see, but it just feels like a big pacifier to me.”
Donovan Mitchell should be reveling in his breakout as a Bubble star. Instead, he also suggested that leaving is a better idea than staying, even with his Utah Jazz looking at a possible matchup against James and the Los Angeles Lakers. “A lot of times where we say we don’t feel safe, it doesn’t matter how much money, it doesn’t matter who you are,” Mitchell said. “The common excuse is, `He shouldn’t have walked away, shouldn’t have not listened to the cops.’ He doesn’t deserve to be shot in the back, shot seven times. That’s inexcusable. The point of us coming down here was to create change. I really don’t know how else to describe it as an African American male. When does it stop? When do we feel comfortable? When do we feel safe? … I just want this s—- to stop.’’
No one was more emotional than Doc Rivers, coach of the Clippers, whose voice cracked and eyes grew moist as he assessed the national condition. “All you hear is Donald Trump and all of them talking about fear,” he said. “We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that we’re denied to live in certain communities. We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot. And all you do is keep hearing about fear.
“It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back. It’s really so sad. Like, I should just be a coach. I’m so often reminded of my color. It’s just really sad. We got to do better. But we got to demand better. It’s funny. We protest. They send riot guards. They send people in riot outfits. They go up to Michigan with guns. They’re spitting on cops. Nothing happens.”
Who can focus on a basketball game with minds so enraged and hearts so heavy? That’s why it would be wrong to lambaste the players if they go home, though Trump will try, as he did when he said of their national anthem protests: “The kneeling has been horrible for basketball. People are angry about it. They have enough politics with guys like me. There was a nastiness about the NBA the way (protesting) was done. The NBA is in trouble, bigger trouble than they understand.” It’s amazing the games and individual performances have been sharp — and sometimes spectacular — when so much energy is directed toward the White House.
“The question that I would like to ask is, `Does America think that Black people or people of color are uncivilized, savages or naturally unjust? Or are we products of the environments we participate in?’ ‘’ Jaylen Brown said. “America has (given) its answer over and over again. Are we not human beings? Is Jacob Blake not a human being?’’
By nightfall, even TNT analyst Kenny Smith was walking off the “Inside the NBA’’ set. “This is tough. Right now, my head is ready to explode,” he said. “Like just in the thoughts of what’s going on. Coming in and even driving here, getting into the studio, hearing calls and people talking. And for me, I think the biggest thing now as a Black man, as a former player, I think it’s best for me to support the players and just not be here tonight.”
Even Lou Williams was weighing in. The Clippers guard has been averse to the Bubble all along, including the day he had permission to attend a funeral and wound up in a strip-joint controversy. “It’s unfortunate we’re in this Bubble and we’re still dealing with these issues,’’ he said. “We’re still seeing unarmed Black men get shot in the streets. It’s just ridiculous at this point. And I think it’s difficult being here when things like that are happening. You kind of feel helpless in a way. You can use your voice in a way, but I think our presence is much more felt.’’
All of which compounds the surreal nature of what we’re watching in sports. In roughly the time required to find * on a laptop keyboard, I saw Lucas Giolito complete a no-hitter in front of cardboard cutouts and Paul George reveal his struggle with depression in a Bubble. Those events alone should silence, at once, all talk of asterisks for Sports In A Pandemic. If anything, 2020 should be affixed with a colossal exclamation point.
What many of these human beings are accomplishing is nothing short of stunning, dealing as they are with the double whammy of an infectious disease and racial unrest. Life in relative isolation left George, the Clippers star, in “a dark place’’ that impacted a career-worst shooting slump against Dallas. “It was just a little bit of everything, he said. “I underestimated mental health, honestly. I had anxiety. A little bit of depression. Just being locked in here. I just wasn’t there. I checked out. Games 2, 3, 4, I wasn’t there. Shout-out to the people that were in my corner, that gave me words. They helped big time, help get me right, (get) me back in great spirits. I can’t thank them enough.”
This is only the beginning of a drama that parallels, not coincidentally, a presidential election season that already is giving us the dry heaves. NHL players are upset that games weren’t postponed, prompting this tweet from San Jose star Evander Kane: “Actually it’s incredibly insulting as a black man in hockey the lack of action and acknowledgment from the @nhl.’’ The NFL has yet to announce an official position about sideline kneeling, with a strong suspicion that the almighty Jerry Jones will oppose it again, despite commissioner Roger Goodell’s so-called 180-degree flip on the topic. After all, Trump has voiced his opinion about the NFL season: “If they don’t stand for the flag and stand strongly, I’d be very happy if they didn’t open.’’
Tweeted Houston wide receiver Kenny Stills, a kneeling activist: “NBA is showing us how it’s done. Time to connect with local activists to help formulate demands.’’
As we await more monumental news, in this apocalyptic year from hell, this much is true: The sports world, so often derided as scandalous and greedy and cringeworthy, never has been prouder.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
Marty Smith Loves The ‘Pinch Me’ Moments
“I don’t look at it as a talent-based platform. I don’t look at it as a results-based platform. I look at it as a platform that was built and sustained through the way I treat other people, through the work ethic that I believe that I have and through the passion that I know I have.”
I tell this story all the time. It is told for laughs, but it is absolutely true. Marty Smith once gave me a giant box of beef jerky.
I was in Charlotte visiting him and Ryan McGee on the set of Marty & McGee as part of a larger feature I was doing on the SEC Network. We spent probably 3 hours together that day. It was a lot of fun. The last thing I watched the duo shoot was a promo for Old Trapper Beef Jerky, the presenting sponsor of their show.
As they finished, I shook their hands and told them I had to get on the road. That is when Smith presented me with a box of twelve bags of Old Trapper and told me, in as sincere a voice as you can imagine, that he wanted me to have it.
“I mean, listen, if you give a man beef jerky, by God, you like him,” Smith said to me when I reminded him of that story earlier this week. “That’s redneck currency right there, bud.”
There just aren’t a lot of people in this business like Marty Smith. ESPN definitely knows it too. That is why the network finds every opportunity it can to use him to tell the stories of the events and people it covers.
Last week, he spent Monday and Tuesday with the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens. He got a day back home in Charlotte before he headed to Atlanta for the SEC Network’s coverage of the SEC Championship Game on Thursday. Saturday, after his duties for SEC Nation and College GameDay were done, he hit the road for Tuscaloosa to interview Nick Saban and be ready for ESPN’s coverage of the reveal of the final College Football Playoff rankings.
As if that isn’t enough, this week he heads to New York. It will be the second time ESPN will use him to conduct interviews and tell stories during the telecast of the Heisman Trophy presentation. It’s an assignment that Marty Smith still cannot believe is his.
“I’ve had a ton of pinch-me moments, but in the last five, six years, seven years, there are two that kind of stand out above the rest. One was when Mike McQuaid asked me to be part of his team to cover The Masters. The other was last year when my dear longtime friend Kate Jackson, who is the coordinating producer over the Heisman broadcast, asked me to be a part of her Heisman broadcast team and interview the coaches, players and families of the finalists,” Smith says. “You know, brother, I’ve been watching the Heisman Trophy my whole life.”
We talk about what the broadcast around the Heisman Trophy presentation is and how it differs from being on the sideline for a game. He is quick to point out that on a game day, the old adage “brevity is king” is a reality. In New York though, he will have more time to work with. He plans not to just fill it, but to use it.
Marty’s interest in his subjects’ backgrounds and their emotions is sincere. It is part of a larger philosophy. He respects that everyone has a story to tell and appreciates the opportunity to be the one that gets to tell it, so he is going to do all he can to make sure the people he is talking to know it and know that they matter to him. That means putting in the time to be respectful of his subject’s time.
“When I’m interviewing these players or coaches before a game, I want to interview them, and I’m saying not on camera, but when I’m doing the record. I want to get as thorough as I can get. Then you take all of that and you try to pare it down into a very small window. It’s not easy. I mean, look, most of the time you come home with reams of notes that never even sniff air.”
Marty Smith has always been a unique presence. As his profile has grown and he shows up on TV more often and in more places, more people question who this guy really is.
That is par for the course though, right? Someone with a unique presence sees their star rise and out come the naysayers ready to question how authentic the new object of our affections really is.
For me, there is a moment that defines Marty Smith, at least in this aspect. I cannot remember the year or the situation, but he was on The Dan Le Batard Show, back when it was on ESPN Radio. Smith was telling Dan about friends of his that are stars in the country music world and Dan asked what it is like when they are hanging out backstage before one of these guys goes out to perform.
I cannot remember Smith’s exact answer, but a word he used stood out to me. He said it was just buddies having a cold beer and “fellowshippin'”.
I told Marty about this memory of him and said that I am not accusing him of being inauthentic or his persona on television being an act, but I was curious if he was concious of the words he chooses. Even if the version we get of Marty Smith on TV is the same one we would get if we were part of the fellowshippin’, does he think about how he wants people to think about him?
He is quick to note that is isn’t an act at all. What you see when you see Marty Smith isn’t a persona he cooked up when he decided he was going into television. That is just his personality.
“It is a lifelong field from where I’m from to where I am,” he says of what we see on TV. “It is relationships made that pinched my clay and remolded who I was to who I am and reshaped me as a person.”
Anyone from The South can tell you that there is no one monolithic “South”. The gregarious, larger-than-life personalities in Louisiana may not always feel real to people from the more reserved and anglo-influenced South Carolina. The Southern accent I got from growing up in Alabama sounds nothing like the Southern accents I live near now in North Carolina.
If Marty Smith doesn’t seem authentic to you, maybe it is because his version of “Southern” isn’t one you’re familiar with. Maybe it is a version of “Southern” that only exists in one dude on the entire planet.
Smith is from Pearisburg, Virginia just outside of Blacksburg. Surely that informs who he is, but he is also shaped by the wealth of conversations he has had and the characters he has met from his professional life.
“At our company, you have to work really hard to not only make it, but to sustain it. I try hard to do that every day,” he says. “I’m sure I’ve said it before, man. I don’t look at it as a talent-based platform. I don’t look at it as a results-based platform. I look at it as a platform that was built and sustained through the way I treat other people, through the work ethic that I believe that I have and through the passion that I know I have. You piece all of those different things together, and along with opportunity you can do something special, and I’m trying to do that every day.”
The Marty Smith you see on TV is the guy that will hand you a box of beef jerky just because you had a great conversation. He is the guy you see in that viral video from a few years back giving a young reporter advice and encouragement.
You can be confused by Marty Smith. You can have your questions about him and his motivations. They aren’t going to change him though. It took too long for him to become who he is to start second-guessing it now.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Another World Cup Run Ends And There’s Still No Soccer Fever In The USA
“We get fired up once every four years, sing the anthem, wear American flag t-shirts, then go back to our daily lives, forgetting about the sport that was attached to the patriotism.”
Soccer fever? Hardly. Not in the United States at least. The US Men’s National Team lost in the round of 16 against the Netherlands 3-1 last Saturday. The ratings are in. And the ratings are revealing.
An average of 12.97 million viewers tuned in to see the Netherlands-United States World Cup match on FOX. Before you say, “Hey, not bad,” consider the fact that the ratings are down from eight years ago when 13.44 million viewers watched the USMNT lose to Belgium in the knockout stage on ESPN.
Even more damning are the ratings of the USMNT’s initial match in the 2022 World Cup against Wales, an unhealthy 8.31 million viewers.
Let me get this straight; fans waited, waited, and waited some more to finally see the USMNT in World Cup action, and the first game in eight years drew 8.31 million viewers? Really?
There were 5.5 million viewers across TV and digital that watched the NFL Network’s telecast of the New York Giants-Green Bay Packers game in London. That was a Week 5 game in the NFL compared to the World freaking Cup. Network television (FOX) compared to cable TV (NFL Network). And the ratings are comparable? Come on, US Soccer. Y’all gotta do better than this.
*Mini rant alert — it drives me crazy when soccer in this country is consistently compared to soccer in this country. The promoters of the sport paint an obnoxiously rosy picture of the growing popularity by comparing US soccer now to US soccer then. It’s a joke.
It would be like comparing Nebraska’s 4-8 record in college football this year, to Nebraska’s 3-9 record last year. “Hey, things are looking up!” Never mind the fact that the Cornhuskers are significantly trailing several teams in its conference and many other teams across the country. That’s US soccer in a nutshell. Don’t compare it to other leagues and sports that are crushing it, just say we’re up 10% from last year. Ridiculous.
*Mini rant continuing alert — the Michigan-Ohio State game drew 17 million viewers last month. The New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving drew 42 million viewers. Those are regular-season matchups compared to the biggest stage soccer has to offer. But go ahead and just compare US soccer to itself.
And no, the edge you might feel in my words isn’t born out of fear that soccer will somehow surpass the popularity of football. That would be like Mike Tyson being scared that the Stanford Tree mascot could beat him up. US soccer isn’t a threat, it’s a light breeze. I just hate a bad argument. And many soccer apologists have been making bad arguments on the behalf of US soccer for years. *Mini rant over
The World Cup didn’t prove that American fans are invested in soccer. It proved that we love a big event. It’s the same recipe every four years with the Olympics.
During the 2016 summer games in Rio, when swimmer Michael Phelps was in the pool for what turned out to be his final outing in an Olympic competition, the ratings peaked at 32.7 million viewers. Phelps helped Team USA win gold in the men’s 100-meter relay and then rode off into the sunset.
We don’t really care about swimming. When’s the last time you asked a friend, “You heading out tonight?” and the response was, “Are you crazy? The Pan Pacific Championships are on.”
Whether it’s the Olympics or World Cup, Americans care about the overall event much more than the individual sport. We get fired up once every four years, sing the anthem, wear American flag t-shirts, then go back to our daily lives, forgetting about the sport that was attached to the patriotism.
Ask yourself this, at the height of US swimming’s popularity, would you have paid $14.99 per month to watch non-Olympic events? Me either. US soccer isn’t exactly on fire following its showing in the 2022 World Cup, so the timing isn’t awesome to introduce a paywall for the sport’s top league in this country.
Apple and Major League Soccer have announced that MLS Season Pass will launch soon. I know you’re excited, but try to stay composed. Yes, MLS Season Pass will launch on February 1, 2023. It’s a 10-year partnership between MLS and Apple that features every live MLS regular-season match, the playoffs, and the League’s Cup.
Have I died and gone to heaven?
It’ll run you $14.99 per month or $99 per season on the Apple TV app. For Apple TV+ subscribers — make sure you’re sitting down for this, you lucky people — it’s $12.99 per month or $79 per season. If you don’t have US soccer fever right now, I doubt you’re running out to throw down cash on a product you aren’t passionate about.
Now if the USMNT won the 2022 World Cup, cha-ching. The popularity of US soccer would definitely grow in a major way. Even if they had a strong showing while reaching the quarterfinals, the momentum would be much greater. But a 3-1 loss to the Netherlands in the group of 16? Nope. This isn’t it. I don’t expect much more than some tumbleweed rolling by instead of cash registers heating up for MLS Season Pass.
Colorado Hiring Deion Sanders Will Be Constant Gift for College Football Media
“If Coach Prime achieves the same sort of success that he did with the Tigers, he will be far more than a curiosity. Sanders will be a disruptor.”
Deion Sanders quickly made it clear why the University of Colorado chose him to be its next head football coach.
Coming off a weekend in which the four College Football Playoff teams were announced and all of the other bowl-eligible teams accepted their invitations, Colorado — which went 1-11 this past season — made news for hiring Sanders, the former NFL star who was phenomenally successful at Jackson State.
The media that covers college football and sports as a whole should be thrilled that the Buffaloes program decided to take a big leap for attention and notoriety. Sanders is a bold, risky hire. But he’s also been successful in virtually every venture he’s taken. “Primetime” had a Hall of Fame NFL career and also played Major League Baseball. And he’s a master at drawing attention to himself.
During his first meeting with his new team, Sanders made sure to mention that he has Louis Vuitton luggage to make the point that some of his Jackson State players are coming with him to Boulder — including his son, quarterback Shadeur Sanders. Nick Saban and Kirby Smart probably don’t cite luxury fashion when explaining to their players that they’ll have to compete for starting positions.
Coach Prime will not be boring to cover. (That self-appointed “Coach Prime” title, which was on his name plate at his introductory press conference, is a big clue there.) He never has been. This is a man who said during the 1989 NFL Draft, after being selected No. 5 overall by the Atlanta Falcons, that if the Detroit Lions had selected him at No. 3, he “would’ve asked for so much money, they’d have had to put me on layaway.”
Even if he doesn’t win as much as Colorado hopes, Sanders will pursue top talent — players who want to perform on a larger stage than the FCS-level Jackson State allows — and impact athletes will be attracted to him. He got the No. 1 recruit in the nation, cornerback and wide receiver Travis Hunter, to play for him. (Hunter is following his coach to Boulder.) Now that Sanders is at an FBS school in a Power 5 conference, more stars will surely come.
But if Coach Prime achieves the same sort of success that he did with the Tigers — going 27-5 in three seasons, including a 12-0 campaign in 2022 — he will be far more than a curiosity. Sanders will be a disruptor. And he’ll get the attention that such figures typically draw from media and fans. According to the Denver Post‘s Sean Keeler, at least 400 people attended what felt more like a celebration than a press conference.
Coach Prime wasn’t going to just win the press conference, which is what any school and fanbase want when a new coach is introduced.
If Colorado wanted someone to sit at a podium, and give platitudes like “We want to win the Pac-12 and get to the College Football Playoff,” “We’re going to build a program with young men you’ll be proud of,” or “It’s time to restore Colorado to the football glory we remember,” Sanders isn’t the guy for that.
“Do I look like a man that worries about anything? Did you see the way I walked in here? Did you see the swagger that was with me?” Sanders said during his introductory presser. “Worry? Baby, I am too blessed to be stressed. I have never been one for peer pressure. I put pressure on peers. I never wanted to worry, I make people worry. I don’t get down like that. I am too darn confident. That is my natural odor.”
To no surprise, Sanders announced his presence in Boulder with authority. He had cameras following him as he met with Colorado players for the first time. How many other coaches would have recorded what many would see as a private moment for posterity and post it online?
Sanders caused a stir by putting his players on notice. He warned them he was coming, telling them they’ll be pushed so hard they might quit. He told them to enter the transfer portal and go someplace else if they don’t like what he and his staff are going to do.
That candor, that brutal honesty surprised many fans and media when they saw it Monday morning. For some, that message might have felt too familiar. How many in media — or many other industries — have worried about their job status when a new boss takes over? What may have seemed secure days earlier is now uncertain.
But how do we know other coaches haven’t said something similar when taking over at a new job and addressing their team? We just hadn’t seen it before. But Sanders has been in the media. He knows social media. He understands controlling his own message and telling his story.
Sanders also knows what kind of value he brings to any venture he takes on. How many people would have left an NFL Network gig for Barstool Sports? But Sanders went to where his star would shine, where he was the main show, where he could be Deion Sanders. Maybe he’ll have to turn that down just a bit at Colorado. But athletic director Rick George knows who he hired.
Colorado could have made a safer choice, including previous head coaches Tom Herman, Bronco Mendenhall, or Gary Patterson. A top assistant from one of this year’s Playoff contenders — such as Georgia’s Todd Monken, USC’s Alex Grinch, Alabama’s Bill O’Brien, or Michigan’s Sherrone Moore — could also have been an option.
But what fun would that have been? What kind of tremor would Colorado have created in the college football news cycle? How much attention would a more conventional hire have received? Yes, Sanders has to recruit and win. However, if the objective was to make Colorado football a talking point again, that’s been accomplished.
There could be some friction too. Sanders has already been criticized for being a champion of HBCUs, only to bolt for a mainstream Power 5 program when the opportunity opened. (To be fair, other columnists have defended the move.)
At Jackson State, Sanders tried to control local media when he didn’t like how reporters were addressing him or covering a story. Last year during Southwestern Athletic Conference Media Day, he balked at a Clarion-Ledger reporter addressing him as “Deion,” not “Coach,” insisting that Nick Saban would’ve been shown that respect. Earlier this season, Sanders admonished a school broadcaster (and assistant athletic director) for speaking to him more formally on camera than he did off-camera.
Will that fly among Boulder and Denver media, or the national college football press? It’s difficult to imagine. Maybe Sanders will ease back on his efforts to control reporters within a larger university environment, metropolitan area, and media market. But we’re also talking about Deion Sanders here. He doesn’t bend to outside forces. He makes them bend to him.
Sanders’ stint in Boulder — whether it lasts the five years of his contract and beyond, or less than that — will not be dull. There could be no better gift for the media covering Colorado football. Or college football, a sport already full of bold personalities, eccentric to unhinged fanbases, and outsized expectations. Coach Prime will fit right in.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.