Why Deion Sanders won the social media war this week

Colorado football coach Deion Sanders stepped into something this week on social media, triggering commentaries about him on ESPN’s SportsCenter and “Undisputed” on Fox Sports.

ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith even offered his advice to Sanders’ sons at Colorado:

“How you communicate and how you come across matters,” he said.

Other critics questioned Deion Sanders’ judgment.

“As the leader of a program looking to ascend, I don’t believe that any of this serves to elevate,” ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt said on SportsCenter this week.

But did “Coach Prime” really breach any kind of standard of ethics or manners here? Or was he just being himself  − stoking the social media embers on a  “slow news day” after the NFL draft and keeping the spotlight on himself without even really trying?

In the end, two of his social media posts got more than 37 million views combined, in addition to all that other media and television coverage.

No other major college football coach could get that kind of free marketing on a Wednesday in May, four months before the start of the season.

For Colorado, that’s the reward of having Sanders as head coach after being mostly irrelevant in football for the previous 20 years. In this case, there’s also risk, depending on the viewpoint, which varies widely.

The university declined comment.

What did Deion Sanders say on social media?

In one case, he defended his quarterback son Shedeur from a social media user named “KB,’ who has fewer than 300 followers on X, formerly Twitter. This person instructed Deion Sanders to “Tell yo son stop act like he the coldest out here then put up a 4-8 season.”

Sanders responded to that remark Wednesday in front of his 1.8 million followers.

“He will be a top 5 pick,” wrote Sanders, whose team finished with a 4-8 record in his first year last year at Colorado. “Where yo son going ? Lololol I got time today. Lololol.”

As of Thursday evening, that post had 14.4 million views, according to X.

Shedeur Sanders had an audacious debut at Colorado last year before finishing the season with injuries, including a fractured back. He is still expected to be a NFL first-round draft pick next year after his final college season this fall.

What was wrong with what Deion Sanders said?

There are two viewpoints. It was kind of a funny response unless you subscribe to the notion that major college football coaches should be above the fray and ignore the trolls, lest the coaches risk getting sullied by stooping to their level. Few if any other head coaches would wade into the swamp like this, but there’s something to be said for pushing back sometimes at ugliness and ineptitude.

What was the deal with Sanders saying ‘Lawd Jesus?’

In another case, Sanders appeared to express amusement with a put-down remark made by somebody else (not Deion Sanders) to a player at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee.

“Lawd Jesus,” Sanders wrote in a response on Wednesday.

As of Thursday evening that post had 23 million views, according to X.

Sanders’ “Lawd Jesus” remark is open for interpretation amid the larger context of a back-and-forth social media spat. Sanders, 56, arguably was defending one of his own players, Kaleb Mathis, whose statistical production as a walk-on receiver was being criticized by Jaheim Ward, a defensive back at Austin Peay.

Ward previously had mocked Mathis by saying, “Bruh you had 38 yards last year stop trying to down play somebody.”

In response, a Colorado supporter identified as “Dalvin truth” posted Ward’s own stats from 2023, which included only eight solo tackles.

“Man go take a seat,” the Colorado supporter wrote as he posted Ward’s stats.

That’s when Sanders jumped in and responded to that clapback.

“Lawd Jesus,” he wrote, apparently amused by it.

What was the context to that?

It’s sort of like a pro-wrestling storyline full of grudges and slights. One of Ward’s former teammates at Austin Peay, Xavier Smith, made some critical remarks about Deion Sanders in an article from The Athletic published Monday. Smith previously played at Colorado before Sanders overhauled the roster and pushed Smith and dozens of other players to leave Colorado after they finished 1-11 in 2022, before Sanders arrived in Boulder.

Smith left Colorado for Austin Peay and said Deion Sanders handled the situation coldly. “He was destroying guys’ confidence and belief in themselves,’ Smith said in the article.

On Tuesday, Shedeur Sanders responded to these remarks on X, saying he doesn’t even remember Smith and that “Bro had to be very mid (average) at best.”

That post got more than 17 million views as of Thursday night, according to X.

Mathis of Colorado then came to his team’s’ defense on social media and criticized Smith, which led Ward of Austin Peay to make fun of Mathis’ stats in 2023. ‘Dalvin truth’ then returned the volley on behalf of Colorado, eliciting the ‘Lawd Jesus’ remark from Deion Sanders.

What did Sanders do wrong here?

To some, Sanders was partaking in putting down a college kid for not having great football stats. Another interpretation is he was just amused by the back-and-forth and the irony of Ward mocking the stats of Mathis. “Lawd Jesus” is all he said. That could also be read as a chuckle at what he just read.

In this case again, he arguably should have just stayed out of it. and avoided the risk of turning people off with behavior some might consider to be rude and unbecoming. “Just ignore the noise,” Van Pelt said on ESPN.

What’s the final verdict?

Shedeur’s putdown of a former Colorado player who got run out of Boulder wasn’t necessary.  That’s why Stephen A. Smith urged him to be more careful with how he communicates.  It seemed like he was punching down, though from Shedeur’s viewpoint, he was coming to the defense of his dad, whose roster overhaul in 2023 has been criticized and discussed for more than a year.

In the case of his dad, Deion Sanders is unlike any other coach in America at a time of great upheaval in college football, including a wide-open transfer portal and constant criticism on social media. He has embraced the portal and mastered social media far more than others in his profession.

Former NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson likened the situation to feuding rappers drumming up publicity for themselves with drama and conflict.

‘Rappers, that’s what they do,’ Johnson said on ‘Undisputed.’ ‘They make tracks on one another.’

It captivated a large audience, for better or worse. Two of Deion Sanders’ posts gained 37 million views, plus a segment on SportsCenter and a debate on “Undisputed.” Shedeur’s post gained another 17 million-plus views.

All in the middle of a week in May at Colorado − a program with only two winning seasons in the past 18 years.

Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. Email: bschrotenb@usatoday.com

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