Deion Sanders has only been head coach at Jackson State since 2020, but he’s already more than proven the value of his addition to their athletic team. The July cover of Sports Illustrated magazine features on its cover Sanders, his son QB Shedeur, and top recruit Travis Hunter. Sanders called it “a monumental moment” for HBCUs last week in discussing it, as well as once more dismissing claims that his school had done anything either illegal or unethical in recruiting Hunter, the player universally regarded as the nation’s top recruit out of high school this season.

“We’re so clean we’re dirty,”Sanders said, in reference to the still simmering controversy that Alabama head coach Nick Saban began a couple of weeks ago when he claimed Sanders and Jackson State had purchased Hunter with Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) money. “Jackson State paid a guy a million dollars last year that was a really good Division 1 player to come to school,” Saban told reporters in statements that were eventually published in almost every major newspaper and repeated multiple times on broadcasts and published on numerous websites. “It was in the paper (not true by the way). They bragged about it (also not true). Nobody did anything about it. (a third mistruth).”

Saban later apologized for his comments, but when told that Saban wanted to speak with him about them privately, Sanders refused, saying that since Saban had made public comments about Jackson State their conversation should be done the same way. Hunter also tweeted that if he’d gotten a million dollars why were his parents still living in relative poverty (that’s a paraphrase of his actual tweet).

But Sanders has had the last laugh. Both Hunter and. his son Shedeur are the first Black players to be on the Sports Illustrated cover since the late Steve McNair in 1994. Think about that one for a moment. It’s not like there haven’t been other great players who’ve been stars at HBCUs since then. It’s just that Sports Illustrated and other publications have routinely ignored HBCU sports unless something negative happens.

But at least for the time being, HBCUs are once more being recognized and covered in the mainstream and predominantly white media. A local sign of this trend is the excitement being generated for the inaugural Deserve To Win All Star Celebrity Basketball Game coming up June 25 at TSU’s Gentry Center. The game is the brainchild of TSU head basketball coach Penny Collins, and it features current and former NFL players along with some current NBA stars and even some area celebrities. It promises to be a fun event, with general admission tickets $10 and seats on the court $100 (call 615-963-7627 for more info).

That game follows on the heels of the June 2 announcement by longtime NBA All-Star guard Chris Paul in conjunction with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame will present the second Boost Mobile HBCU Challenge later this year. The event will be co-hosted by Paul and Boost Mobile. The game will be played for a second straight year at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut Nov. 15-16. The game will match participants from Clark Atlanta University, Virginia Union University, Johnson C. Smith University, and Xavier University of Louisiana.

Last year’s title game saw Virginia Union defeat Winston-Salem State University 59-55. West Virginia State University defeated Morehouse in the consolation game. There’s also the HBCU Challenge which is set for Dec. 17-18 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. It will match teams from Norfolk State University, Hampton University, Texas Southern University and North Carolina A&T State University.

Paul, who’s also pursuing a communications degree at Winston-Salem State, has long been a supporter of HBCUs. His efforts, along with those of Sanders, Collins and others are helping keep HBCUs in the spotlight during an era when numerous attractions in both the sports and entertainment worlds vie for the public’s attention.