Why Deion Sanders is scary to some white people

Coach Prime, Deion Sanders, Colorado Buffaloes, theGrio.com
Colorado head coach Deion Sanders responds to questions during a news conference after the team’s NCAA college football practice at the university Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

They say Deion Sanders is controversial and one of the most disliked coaches in college football, and that sounds funny to me. When they say he’s controversial and disliked, my first question is this: controversial to whom? And disliked by who? Because among my friends and acquaintances, he’s like a thrilling supernova shooting through the sports universe. The people I rock with are absolutely rooting for him. He’s the return of the brash, bad-ass, swaggerific Black superstar we’ve always loved. But then again, most of my friends are Black (and if they’re not, I know for certain that they’re allies) so my friends look at Deion as part of our tribe. He represents no threat to us. His victory is ours. Now, if you’re white and not an ally, you may see Deion as a threat. That’s because he may remind you of a threat. This is America. We’ve seen this dynamic play out before.

Deion is a man of deep self-confidence. Like, unshakeable self-confidence. Deion thinks highly of himself and he’s not shy about telling you that he’s great and then he goes out on the field and proves he’s great. He’s a Black man with ironclad self-belief. He’s egotistical and braggadocious, but Deion leavens his swagger with comic levity, avuncular wisdom and nuggets of Christian faith. But a big Black ego can be frightening to white people, especially to white men.

I feel like we saw something similar play out with Muhammad Ali. He was, like Deion, a man of towering self-confidence who constantly and eloquently told us how great he was. As far as the way Deion conducts himself in public, he is absolutely the son of Ali. They both believe in themselves deeply but undercut it with comedy and charisma, but make no mistake, at the end of the day, they are certain that they are the greatest of all times. Ali’s swagger was extremely threatening to white men because whiteness sees itself as inextricable from dominance. That’s at the core of what whiteness means — it’s not connected by culture, it’s connected by a sense of being superior or dominant. And real Black swagger is a threat to the dominance of whiteness. It means you’re looking at a Black man who knows how great he is. Someone who will not accept the myth of white supremacy, indeed, someone who makes a mockery of that notion every time he talks because his spirit is so dynamic and vibrant. That means he is not going to accept second-class status, and he is not going to participate in the lie of white supremacy. That makes him dangerous — a threat to the system.

Deion — like Ali, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, Allen Iverson, Reggie Jackson and Serena Williams — has a sense of swagger that I think may code in the white mind as uppity. And threatening. If, decades back, a Black person in the segregated South, the oppressive South, began to think and move with the regal bearing and the sense of strength and power that these elite athletes do, then you could tell they were about to try to take an axe to white supremacy. It was time to do something. I think they see Deion and in the lizard brain of their whiteness, they’re triggered because he reminds them of the scariest Black people in town — the ones who believed in themselves and knew their importance. The ones who made men say, it’s time to do something. But there’s nothing y’all can do about Deion.

Touré, theGrio.com

Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of Masters of the Game on theGrioTV. He is also the host and creator of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and the animated show “Star Stories with Toure” which you can find at TheGrio.com/starstories. He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.

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