Jay Hopson took full precaution in voicing all the right concerns as he strolled toward the podium and his place in immortality as the first non-African American head coach to ever call all the shots for the storied Alcorn State football program earlier this week.
Just how much of what he said even he truly believes seems a whole other matter.
“I don’t see black or white, we’re all purple and gold,” Hopson, whom the school further trumpeted as the “first non-black head coach in the history of the Southwestern Athletic Conference,” told a crowd full of media and eyebrows raised alumnus. “I’m coming home, and none of this has absolutely anything at all to do with race.”
And with that very pronouncement, Alcorn diehards now have every reason to frightfully wonder just how stacked the odds may really be against their beloved Braves returning to the glory days of the likes of Isaac Holt, Donald Driver and Steve McNair anytime soon. Forget about trading first downs and touchdowns with such longtime rivals as Jackson State, Alabama State and Grambling. Given this week’s shenanigans, one can wonder if the Braves even have a grasp on the turf their now treading.
Be it a case of raised nativity or the simple avoidance of an inconvenient truth, how can Hopson or, more to the point, hiring Alcorn State president Christopher Brown, at least with straight faces, speak of the recently deposed, 43-year-old former Memphis assistant assuming the reigns of one of the HBCU’s most high profile programs— and in this way, no less— at such a critical juncture in its history without the issue of race ever casting its aimless eye?
How can they not know that it was a huge part of why Hopson struggled so mightily before coming to his decision, at one point electing to completely remove his name from all consideration? How could Brown not realize it’s long been the elephant in the room, at least where Hopson’s been concerned, in a dogged process even he readily admits has been rife with “missteps?”
Rarely have the gridiron stakes been higher around the Lorman, Mississippi campus. Melvin Spears was dismissed after just one, 2-8 drama-filled season and the team hasn’t finished a year where they won more than they lost since 2003’s 7-5 campaign. And, given all the new NCAA rules and legislation regarding recruiting practices and academic preparedness related to student-athletes, the game doesn’t figure on becoming any easier anytime soon.
Enter Hopson, and already critics are clamoring his arrival sends a defeatist message among an overwhelming populous and within an environment where personal pride and self-awareness are championed as much as any academic achievements, that only someone other than the likes of themselves are qualified and capable of somehow omnipotently riding to the rescue.
Already the most outspoken of the vexed have likened Hopson’s arrival to that of an overseer being summoned to whip all the masses back in line. They point to Department of Education data that shows overall non-black enrollment hovers at just over 10 percent at all 105 HBCUS and ask why cast anyone not born of that 90 percent minority demographic in the role of savior.
Make of their concerns what you will, but understand students—and yes even student athletes— often make their decisions to attend HBCUs for a well-thought out and specific set of reasons. Chief among them seems the prospect of matriculating within an environment where variables such as nurturing and mentoring are as large a part the equation as algorithms and formulas. What stands to come of such bonds in instances like these where the game plan gets changed in midstream?
Understand such sentiments, in and of themselves, don’t necessarily handicap any of now chagrined as some sort of racist, but rather may be a case of one who has given clear and concise thought to what they deem the best course of action for themselves. Rather it’s your way, or even my way, seems irrelevant in the face of those who view such actions as imperative.
“We have a mission… we want to lay that foundation to win championships. I think the Lord leads us where he wants us,” said Hopson. "Today's historical appointment will require us to walk hand in hand to disrupt naysayers wedded to a racist past," added Brown. “This candidate won every round of interviews and he was selected by each group of the selection committee.”
All the right words, indeed. If only, a few of them rang a bit more truthfully.
Glenn Minnis is a NYC-based sports and culture writer. Follow him on Twitter at @glennnyc.