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Saban touches off college football food fight

Alabama Coach Nick Saban is not alone on game day. Die-hard fans, and their families, are willing the team to victory.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban is not alone on game day. Die-hard fans, and their families, are willing the team to victory.

We’ve quoted the Maya Angelou line here before that when a person shows you who they are, you should believe them – the first time.

It’s not just a great line, but a wonderfully apt observation. Even if you believe in redemption and restoration, most folks are who they are and have always been and aren’t likely to move much off their usual selves.

This thought occurred last week when a sizable kerfuffle erupted after Alabama football coach Nick Saban said the quiet part out loud.

While speaking to a group of businesspeople in Birmingham last Wednesday, Saban bemoaned the fact that his team had the No.2 recruiting class in the nation, while Texas A&M, his divisional rival in the Southeastern Conference, was ranked No.1. The seven-time national championship coach attributed his opponent’s recruiting success to the name, image and likeness or NIL opportunities now available to students.

Except Saban, who has won six of those titles at Alabama, wasn’t that genteel. He said A&M quote bought unquote those players using NIL, the implication being that his Texas counterparts were behaving in a way that he wouldn’t.

But Saban wasn’t finished. He then went on to claim that Jackson State, an historically Black university in Mississippi had signed the nation’s top wide receiver recruit by offering $1 million in NIL payments.

As you might expect, folks at Texas A&M and Jackson State didn’t take too kindly to Saban’s assertions and said so in no uncertain terms.

Aggie coach Jimbo Fisher quickly called a press conference the next day where he angrily refuted the allegations in strong and very personal terms,

He called the Alabama coach’s remarks despicable, called him a narcissist and said Saban thought he was God. Keep in mind, Fisher used to be an assistant to Saban and implied that he knew some things about his former boss that would be unsavory if they were revealed.

For his part, Jackson State coach Deion Sanders took something of a high road. Like Fisher, he denied Saban’s allegations, but with a twist.

Sanders, who made the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a cornerback with the Cowboys, 49ers and Ravens, said that rather than accept Saban’s privately offered apology, he wanted to have a public airing of grievances.

Sanders, no shrinking violet he, implied that he knew enough about how coaches like Saban operate to make things uncomfortable for everyone.

Indeed, if there is any party that should feel appropriately aggrieved in Saban’s volley, it’s Sanders in particular and HBCUs in general.

To these ears, the tone of Saban’s remarks left the impression that he believed talented Black athletes would be fools to go to schools like Jackson State absent a big money payment.

Now, the irony of all of this is that Saban probably wasn’t bemoaning what he thought is happening at A&M and Jackson State.

Instead, he was sounding a call-to-arms to those businesspeople and others around the state who would likely pony up the kind of dough it would take to get prospective players to Alabama.

Because when people show you who they are and what they stand for, namely winning at all costs, believe them – the first time.

And that’s how I see it for this week. You can reach us via email with your questions and comments at Sports at Large at gmail.com. And follow me on Twitter at Sports at Large.

Until next week, for all of us here, I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.