Two big-name Black athletes are making big donations to HBCUs, at a time when just how much ballers owe—or don’t—to the institutions is the subject of debate.
Kevin Durant, perhaps the DMV’s most famous current athletic export, said on Monday that he’s donating $500,000 to Bowie State University, Maryland’s oldest historically Black college. Durant was born in the nation’s capital and raised in the adjacent Prince George’s County, where Bowie sits, and his donation is slated to outfit the school’s A.C. Jordan Arena with a new basketball court and an updated press box and bleachers. The Brooklyn Nets forward is also setting up a scholarship fund to pay tuition at Bowie for graduates of a high school program he founded.
And over the weekend, TNT network NBA commentator and basketball hall of famer Charles Barkley announced donations of $1 million each to Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss. And it’s his donation to that last institution that helps frame the current conversation around HBCUs and their relationships with Black current and former pro athletes.
Jackson State is at the center of that debate after NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders announced he was leaving his gig as head coach of the football program there to lead the football program at the University of Colorado, a predominantly white institution. Sanders spent three seasons at JSU and led a turnaround in the program, leading the Tigers squad to consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference titles and bids in the Celebration Bowl, the HBCU national championship in football. Sanders also committed to contribute half his salary to the construction of new athletic facilities on the campus, and endured hard times like the city of Jackson’s water system crisis and having a locker robbed of his personal belongings while he coached a home game.
Sanders’ departure undercut the high expectations some people had—many of which were his of his own making—of a broader renaissance for HBCU sports with superstar former athletes and coaches lending their clout, expertise and connections to help with recruiting and fundraising in the same way he had at Jackson State.
Barkley addressed that issue head on, telling AL.com that his donation to Jackson State happened because of his relationship with Sanders.
Barkley chose to donate to JSU “because of what Deion means to me as a friend,” he said. “They’re probably gonna take a little hit with him leaving, so I want to show them some love because, man, what he accomplished there was pretty extraordinary.”