Deion Sanders was riding high during his head coaching debut Sunday as Jackson State trounced NAIA opponent Edward Waters 53-0. But the game was quickly overshadowed by confusion over whether Sanders had been robbed during the game.
Sanders ranted to reporters in his postgame press conference that he believed someone stole his belongings out of the coaches office, alleging his credit card, wallet, watches, and phone were all taken. He used the incident to illustrate how "when I talk about quality and raising the standards, that goes for everyone, man, not just the people on the field, not just the coaches, not just the teachers, not just the faculty. But that's everybody. Security and everybody."
News of the allegation spread quickly, and Sanders claimed it was the second time he's been robbed since taking the FCS job in Jackson, Mississippi. Within an hour, however, Jackson State officials told Sports Illustrated's Ross Dellenger that Sanders' belongings were not stolen and had only been misplaced after being moved for safekeeping. Noah Newman of WJTV in Jackson reported that all of Sanders' stuff was found in his locker/office.
But before the night was over, Sanders posted on Twitter doubling down on the robbery allegation and stating that a staff member walked in on a theft in progress. Jackson State also released a statement acknowledging Sanders had items "taken from the locker room."
"Those items were quickly recovered and returned," the statement said. "While we consider this an isolated incident, we are thoroughly reviewing security protocols to ensure this does not happen again. However, we refuse to let this dampen the victory for our JSU Tigers, who have worked hard for this moment. We want them to enjoy this time, as we look forward to more game-winning celebrations in the future."
The conflicting reports and statements over what happened capped off the beginning of what figures to be a fascinating chapter in Sanders' career. The FCS season moved to the spring this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Tigers are scheduled to play a seven-game regular season slate. Sanders, who has drawn attention to the Jackson State program with his status as a former NFL and MLB superstar, will need to put Sunday's misunderstanding behind him quickly. The Tigers are set to host in-state rival Mississippi Valley State on Saturday, and it should be a much tougher game than Sunday's romp against an overmatched foe from one of the sport's lowest tiers.
"How do you think it feels?" Sanders said before the incident was resolved. "Coming back teary-eyed because the guys presented me with the game ball. One of the best moments I've ever had in my professional sports career emotionally. Then you go into your locker room and your coaches office ... and you notice that you don't even have a phone to call your momma, to call your girl, to call your kids because it's been stolen."
Sanders eventually said "let's flush that" and began to talk about the game. But before that, he made clear that "we're going to find out who did it."