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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Open Letter To Deion Sanders

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

Head Football Coach

Jackson State University

1400 John R. Lynch Street

Jackson, Mississippi 39217

Dear Coach Sanders,

We have never met, but I watched your recent 60 Minutes interview on CBS.

From 1994 to 2002, I was a member of the Alabama State University Board of Trustees. During this period, I served as the Chairman of the Board’s Athletics Committee. As Chairman, I pushed the University to pursue Division I-A status for its football program.

Fellow trustee Buford Crutcher and I spent our personal money and a lot of time traveling to NFL and university stadium financing seminars around the country to gain the knowledge we needed to finance and build an on-campus stadium that would accommodate the University's quest for Division I-A status in football. At the time, ASU was playing in an old, dilapidated city-owned stadium in Montgomery.

In May of 2000, we officially launched the plan to build a state-of-the-art $60 million stadium. You can click here to review the planning document. Dr. David Bronner, my law school classmate at the University of Alabama and the head of Alabama’s $45 billion Retirement Systems, assisted me in developing the stadium financing component.

I hope you can use this stadium design and financing template in your quest to build a suitable stadium on JSU's campus for your championship football program.

There was stiff opposition to a new on-campus stadium from many ASU alums who were conditioned to playing games in inferior sports venues. It took 12 long years to bring this stadium project to fruition.

Due to the passage of time, the new ASU stadium ended up costing $62 million. ASU was able to finance the stadium on Wall Street in its own name using the University’s A-1 credit rating and an unbroken string of outstanding annual audit reports from well-known national accounting firms.

Apart from the personal assistance of Dr. Bronner, the state of Alabama did very little to help ASU with its stadium initiative.

At the time, Troy State University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (which had nothing but a football club) were seeking Division I-A status for their football programs. Behind-the-scenes, they encouraged former governor Robert Bentley to kill ASU's stadium financing deal. Bentley tried to do so by placing ASU under a special investigation that lasted for several years.

Bentley’s bogus investigation produced no evidence of wrongdoing, but it did strain ASU's relationship with its stadium financing partners. In 2017, Bentley was forced to resign from office after my online news platform exposed the governor’s “sex-for-power” scandal with his married girlfriend and his repeated violations of the state ethics laws.

You and your JSU team visited the stadium on October 8, 2022, and defeated the Hornets at their homecoming game.

No historically black college or university (HBCU) in America has on-campus athletics facilities on par with ASU.

Coach, JSU does not play home games in the kind of nice, state-of-the-art, on-campus stadium that the Hornets call home. Yet, your football program dominates the Southwest Athletic Conference because you and your assistant coaches have instilled greatness in your players and JSU's football program. By doing so, you have elevated the visibility of all HBCU sports programs in America.

Looking back on it now, I realize that getting a new stadium and related athletic facilities on ASU’s campus was the easy part. Achieving greatness and dominance in ASU’s football program is the hard part.

After I left the Board, ASU abandoned its quest to pursue Division I-A status for its football program. Troy State and UAB continued in their quest and eventually made it to I-A status.

As for me, I am seeking to become the majority owner of one of the 32 NFL teams. I am working hard and diligently every day to bring this personal goal to life.

It Takes a Great Man To Lead an HBCU and Its Football Program to Greatness

Your work at JSU and your 60 Minutes interview have changed the landscape of HBCU sports, forever. The last HBCU head football coach who received this kind of national recognition and who positively impacted a sports program at a HBCU at this level was Eddie Robinson, Gambling State University's legendary football coach (1941-42 and 1945-97). (Robinson is not related to ASU's current coach, Eddie Robinson, Jr.)

By all objective standards of measurement, Coach Robinson was a great man, a great head football coach, and a great ambassador of goodwill for Grambling.

Jackson State University deserves congratulations for selecting you as its head football coach. You are a modern-day version of Grambling's Eddie Robinson.

Coach Sanders, you are a “winner.” I admire your passion for winning and applaud your work ethic.

You reached the top of the world of athletics, as a college athlete, a professional athlete, and a university head football coach. All along the way, you performed in an outstanding manner and did whatever was necessary and proper to attain excellence in each of these endeavors.

You radiate confidence and a standard of excellence that HBCUs desperately need in their head football coaches. If any head football coach wants respect for his university, his football program, and himself, he needs to work hard and smart enough to win all of his team's games on the playing field. He and his team should view every game as a milestone on the road to excellence and dominance in his sport.

America owes you a debt of gratitude for what you are doing for JSU and HBCU sports. Your efforts are sincere, productive, and inspirational for all HBCUs. You are obviously working to erase the badge of inferiority that has plagued all HBCUs for far too long. You are on a mission from God to change young lives, and it is working.

You are showing HBCUs what their sports programs can achieve if they truly want, demand, and pursue greatness. Too often, we complain about a lack of resources, when the real problem is a lack of heart, grit, and determination to be Number One in the competitive zones of academics, sports, and business.

You probably know by now that there are a lot of blacks who resent your success at JSU. I call these people, “haters.” They have always been among us. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., found a multitude of them in Alabama and elsewhere in the nation. In 1958, one of them nearly stabbed Dr. King to death in Harlem. Eddie Robinson encountered plenty of haters in connection with his work at Grambling. So did Buford Crutcher and I, when we launched the ASU stadium project in 2000.

As a people, we must stop hating on those blacks who choose to live their lives free of a self-imposed inferiority complex. We should celebrate the fact that there is a growing number of blacks among us who are not languishing in a permanent state of psychological castration and mental slavery.

Any HBCU can wallow in mediocrity. However, very few HBCUs are willing to do what it takes to advance their institutions to the forefront of nationwide competition for all colleges and universities.

Let me know if I can help you in any way.


Donald V. Watkins

Sacramento, California

October 22, 2022

IMAGE: The new ASU, state-of-the-art football stadium opened in November of 2012.

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