The first in-person SWAC Media Day appearance of Deion Sanders as Jackson State coach was a memorable one.
His team was predicted to finish third in the SWAC East, but it was clear that he was the center of attention in Birmingham. That’s nothing new, it has been the case since news first broke last August that he was a serious candidate for the position.
But this was the first time that Sanders and the local and national media were physically in the same building.
The amount of media that showed up at the Sheraton Ballroom far exceeded what had shown up for the same event in the same city two years earlier, at the last physical one. And it doesn’t take a media savant to figure out that it was largely because of Sanders and the whirlwind of interest he’s injected into the 101-year-old conference.
The lights and cameras were ready. His son Sheduer Sanders, already anointed the team’s starting quarterback, stood by his father’s side as he stood in front of JSU’s assigned space and moved around the media circuit. Basically doing the same thing as every other coach, though he was clearly more in-demand.
He even took time to chat with Alabama State running back Ezra Gray. The senior sent Sanders a letter thanking him for the publicity he had brought to HBCUs, and Sanders let him know that he was touched.
A matter of respect
At some point during the session, Sanders was interviewed by the Clarion-Ledger, the hometown newspaper of Jackson State. Ole Miss beat reporter Nick Suss was in Alabama representing the paper instead of JSU beat writer Rashad Milligan. Apparently, there was an exchange between the two men that has caused a lot of waves. Suss says that Sanders took issue with him calling the Pro Football Hall of Famer by his first name.
But video of the exchange shows that Sanders exited the interview after he stated he did not want to be called by his first name.
“You don’t call [Alabama‘s] Nick Saban, ‘Nick.’ Don’t call me Deion,” Sanders is quoted as saying by the Clarion-Ledger.
“If you call Nick [Saban], Nick, you’ll get cussed out on the spot,” Sanders said, “so don’t do that to me. Treat me like Nick.”
But Suss protested and emphatically called him by his first name again.
Suss says that Sanders walked out of the media day after the exchange. Sanders took to social media to deny that claim.
“Never walked out of media day,” he tweeted. “I prolonged my time to answer another question & the person thought it was cute to address me the way he did so I dropped the call and went to the next outlet. Please don’t allow a fool to fool u because then nobody would truly know who the fool is.”
Most of us in the media day had no idea that the exchange had taken place. There wasn’t a big loud scene, and with the ESPN Interviews ruling the airways, it would have taken one to get noticed. (I think my ears have stopped ringing.) It was only when we emerged from conducting interviews with the rest of the coaches and players that we learned about it.
When he took the job last August, Sanders has made it known that he prefers to be called “Coach Prime.” And most folks have fallen in line with that. Some members of the media, however, refer to him as Coach Sanders. It happened a few times on Tuesday, and Sanders seemed to show no issue with it.
Since he burst on to the seen as “Prime Time” in the 1990s with the Atlanta Falcons, Sanders has been branding himself. Since coming to JSU he has branded himself as “Coach Prime” but the emphasis has been more on the “Coach” than “Prime.” He clearly takes the title seriously, and that’s his prerogative. He wants to be respected as a coach. And, as a journalist, you’re likely to get further when you have built trust and respect. And perhaps, that’s truly the bigger issue.
Deion Sanders vs. the Clarion-Ledger
But it isn’t the only one.
The relationship between Sanders and the Clarion-Ledger has been interesting to watch from afar. The arrival of Deion Sanders has given the paper the kind of star power that you just don’t get in Mississippi. That means more interest, more views and more revenue for the publication. It has provided JSU football with a level of coverage that it hasn’t had in years, if not decades.
But that has also increased scrutiny for the program and produced some friction. There have been some tense moments in media sessions involving Sanders and the outlet. They have also written some stories that were fair and necessary from a journalism point of view, but haven’t made them that popular on Lynch Street. And to that end, Jackson State blocked Milligan from reporting on the school on Media Day, according to the paper. That came a day after a report detailing legal issues of four-star recruit Quay Davis by Milligan.
Whatever the cause of the rift between Sanders and the Clarion-Ledger, once again, the coach’s star power turned an incident into a national sports headline. That’s something that wouldn’t have happened at a previous SWAC Media Day regardless if all the conference’s coaches stood on their heads and conducted their interviews in that manner.
Sanders said last week that he would put on a show at SWAC Media Day. It looks like he delivered on his promise.