Photo: Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
  /  01.25.2023

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the Ed Reed/Bethune-Cookman saga that is still transpiring. On Dec. 27, the school announced that it entered into an agreement in principle for the nine-time Pro Bowler to become the new head coach of its football team. Following in the footsteps of other high-profile players at the helm of HBCUs, like Deion Sanders and Eddie George, the former Miami Hurricane looked to bring passion and exposure to a team that finished 2-9 last season. Reed knows how to win at every level, and the program could surely use some resuscitation after struggling to find footing in the SWAC since joining in 2021.  The move came after three seasons at his alma mater in a support staff role. Prior to that, he served as assistant defensive backs coach for the Buffalo Bills in 2016. But still, on the heels of Sanders’ move to Colorado, many staunch HBCU supporters looked at the development with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Anyone who has seen Reed play football knows that he brings a certain level of tenacity and passion into anything he does. However, folks were not prepared for his delivery as he took to Instagram Live to disclose his grievances with the appearance of the Daytona Beach campus while picking up trash with his players. In the viral video, the Super Bowl champion shared that he had already been on campus working for a week and a half with no signed contract. To make matters worse, he disclosed that his office was still dirty upon arrival.

“I just pulled up the work. We’re going to try to help y’all too, man. Because I know a lot of HBCUs need help. I’m just here to help first. I see it all too clearly. All of our HBCUs need help. And they need help because of the people who’s running it. Broken mentalities out here. I’m going to leave you with that. I gotta get in the office,” the coach added.

As the Live video continued, social media users took offense to Reed’s comments and felt that he was portraying himself to be a savior while painting HBCUs in a broad and negative light. In response, he denied “mutting” his people: “Man, get out of here, man. I should leave! I’m not even under contract doing this. I’m muttin’ us… Get outta here, man. They muttin’ me.” To add salt to a still-festering wound, Reed went on to say that Sanders was right when he discussed the financial struggles and “broken mentalities” he faced while coaching at Jackson State for two seasons. “Prime was not wrong about what he was saying. All y’all out there with y’all opinions full of crap. Don’t know s**t, but needless to say.” Adding fuel to the fire, the former Baltimore Ravens safety said that he had done more at the private HBCU in a week and a half than some who’d been affiliated with the school for years. That opened the floodgates, and think pieces flowed from every corner of the internet – some in support of Reed; others in support of B-CU and HBCUs in general.

Let’s face it; growing up in the Black community, we are often taught to keep household criticisms and debates “in-house.” That way of thinking extended to HBCUs. It’s no secret that many infrastructure problems at these institutions are the result of chronic underfunding. Still, the traditions and loyalty rivers run deep when it comes to the schools. The need to protect such legacies is understandable. For those reasons, several took to social media to demand that B-CU rescind its head coaching offer. The most prevalent issue for many was the fact that Reed went public with his grievances and, as mentioned, allegedly came off as having a “savior” complex. The HBCU community is still reeling from the aftershocks of Sanders’ departure, and several expressed that high-profile “outsiders” such as him and Reed only sought HBCU positions to elevate their chances at more high-profile jobs. They also claimed that the Louisiana native would have never had the audacity to publicly chastise a predominantly white institution, such as Miami, where he was previously employed. Further, Reed’s impassioned way of communicating — which certainly includes some four-letter words sprinkled throughout — prompted some to come for his mental health – which is problematic. In other words, we can criticize one another in private, but never air the dirty laundry.

The whole situation has drawn a line in the sand. On the flip side, several HBCU alumni and boosters stood with Reed and acknowledged that there has to be some accountability taken if people really want to see B-CU, and other schools as a whole, improve and thrive. Perhaps Reed bringing awareness will spark some change. Bethune-Cookman did not see it that way, however, and decided not to ratify Reed’s contract, sparking an emotional speech to his would-be players that was aired to the world via Instagram Live. In part, B-CU’s statement read as follows:

“While we appreciate the initial interest in our football program displayed by Mr. Reed during the course of recent weeks, we are also mindful of the qualities and attributes that must be exhibited by our institutional personnel during what have been uniquely challenging times for our campus as we recover from the impact of two hurricanes during this past fall semester.”

Addressing the football team, Reed shared that he did not withdraw his name as athletic director, as former NBA player Reggie Theus suggested. “I’m not withdrawing my name as Reggie Theus a** want me to do. He the one, and whoever else with him. You can’t be an AD and a head coach. That’s impossible.” Theus coaches the men’s basketball team – and it would be very difficult to do both simultaneously at a high level. Further, an email from the school still held the position that Reed withdrew his name.

On Monday, hundreds of students marched on campus in protest of unacceptable living conditions and called for trustees to resume negotiations with Reed. Students had been dealing with mold growing on walls, ceilings, pillows, and clothing as well as food shortages and unsafe food preparations; Reed’s situation was allegedly the last straw. In an interview with Roland Martin, B-CU’s interim president, Dr. Lawrence Drake, addressed student concerns, stating, “That’s mildew, that’s not necessarily mold by the way” as if that made matters any better. With regard to the All-Pro safety, Drake explained that it was Reed’s use of profanity and explicit music in the background of one of his videos that spurred the university to reconsider his offer. He went on to explain that Disney, one of the Florida Classic’s biggest sponsors, contacted the school and asked how they would handle the situation.

“I think the final straw was actually the third or fourth video, one with the background music being booties, butts and boobs and h**s. Sixty-five percent of our campus is female and… we’re trying to build young men to respect Black women,” he explained.

While student-athletes have petitioned for Reed’s return to the program, it’s evident that the issues at hand are far bigger than football. You may not agree with the manner in which the message was conveyed, but it’s important not to let the message go over your heads. Reed thought he was going to Daytona not just to be a leader of young men; it’s clear he had intentions to be a change agent. Unfortunately, it appears B-CU was not ready for his type of change, laced with a few four-letter words for extra seasoning.



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