As Nikole Hannah-Jones reminded everybody earlier this month, the job of journalists is to cover the story, not become the story.
That wasn’t the case on Tuesday after two reporters addressed Hall of Fame football legend and Jackson State University head coach Deion Sanders by only his first name. Sanders, who isn’t even one full year into his stint leading the historically Black university in Mississippi, already has the respect of his players and peers.
But when it comes to the local media, it would appear — at least by Tuesday’s exchange — that the sports press corps refused to put any respect on Coach Deion Sanders’ name.
Sanders was making an appearance at the SWAC Media Day in Birmingham when one reporter made the error of referring to Sanders by his first name only, the Clarion-Ledger reported.
“You don’t call Nick Saban, ‘Nick,'” Sanders told Clarion-Ledger reporter Nick Suss while referring to the University of Alabama’s football coach. “Don’t call me Deion.”
Sanders added: “If you call Nick (Saban), Nick, you’ll get cussed out on the spot, so don’t do that to me. Treat me like Nick.”
That warning went unheeded and Sanders was again referred to by his first name only, prompting him to walk out of the interview.
Suss defended ignoring Sanders’ request.
“When I interview people, I call them by their first name,” Suss told the Clarion-Ledger. “Whether it’s someone I’ve been working with for years or someone I’m talking to for the first time. This is true of the coaches and players on the Ole Miss beat, the coaches and players at Mississippi State and Southern Miss when I help out covering their teams and, as recently as January, even Sanders, too.”
Tuesday was the second time Suss covered the SWAC Media Day.
The Clarion-Ledger reported that Suss has repeatedly called Saban by his first name, too.
But that, of course, is beside the point since Sanders said “Don’t call me Deion” in no uncertain terms, regardless of whether he invoked Saban’s name.
Sanders — who was a first-round draft pick in 1989 and played 14 seasons in the NFL — may not have been eager to face the media after finishing his first season with a 4-3 record during a season cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The two-time Super Bowl champion and eight-time Pro Bowler was named Jackson State’s head coach in September of last year to much fanfare.
“I am truly blessed to be the 21st Head football coach of Jackson State University,” Sanders said at the time. “This amazing HBCU has always enjoyed a high level of commitment academically and athletically. It’s my desire to continue this storied tradition and history of JSU and prayerfully bring more national recognition to the athletes, the university, the Sonic Boom of the South, and HBCUs in general. I am TRULY proud to be a part of the JSU Tiger family.”
Jackson State University has a historically strong football program. The school has won three HBCU National Championships, seven division championships and 16 Southwestern Athletic Conference Championships. Additionally, 99 NFL draft picks have come from the school.