September 30, 2023

Is the NFL purposely overlooking HBCU athletes?

By: Nevaeh Richardson

After last year’s draft having only one athlete from a Historically Black College and University selected, this year’s draft brings an even more shocking disappointment; not a single player from an HBCU was selected for this year’s draft.

Pro Football Hall of Famer and head coach of the Jackson State football team, Deion Sanders, expressed his disappointment with this year’s draft in an Instagram post:

We have the Audacity to Hate on one another while our kids are being NEGLECTED & REJECTED. I witnessed a multitude of kids that we played against that were more qualified than the drafted. My prayers are that This won’t EVER happen again. Get yo knife out my back and fight with me not against me!”

Normally a dozen to two dozen players from small schools are selected in the NFL draft with an adequate number of HBCUs represented.

As many Black colleges and universities shut down their football seasons due to Covid-19, many HBCU hopefuls were rendered invisible.

The MEAC, CIAA, SIAC, and the debut of an NFL-organized combine for HBCUs were all canceled because of the pandemic.

Milwaukee industrialist Ulice Payne Jr. and Bethune Cookman assistant coach Charles Jones arranged their own HBCU combine for April in Birmingham, Alabama. For many players, this combine served as the only way for prospects to demonstrate their skills to scouts.

It seems that the combine benefited at least two participants including North Carolina A&T defensive back Mac McCain and Fayetteville State tackle Kion Smith. Both players signed as undrafted free agents with McCain signing with the Denver Broncos and Smith signing with the Atlanta Falcons.

“For a lot of these guys, the only look they got was the HBCU combine,” said Payne. “Our goal was to give them either a first look or a second look. So, we’re grateful for the chance to give them that look.”

Seeing numerous players, including Smith and McCain, get signed after the draft assured the HBCU combine organizers that they were making the right decisions regarding who they were inviting.

Payne and his partners are continuing the combine next year and are encouraging even more prospects and scouts to attend. The organizers are confident that the next HBCU combine will yield even better results.

While the 2021 HBCU shutout raised the fears of many about the future of HBCUs and the NFL, it is worth noting that all small schools were severely disadvantaged because of the pandemic.

“I believe it’s not intentional,” Payne said of the HBCU shutout, “so we’re going to give you an opportunity to see them again.”







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