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"See, though, the only things kids from the streets look up to are fancy clothes and cars and juray," says Sanders. "So they look up to drug dealers. But I'm showing them something else. I got all three, and I'm proving you can do it on the right side."
Which is why Sanders becomes embittered and confused when he is criticized by the press or burned by the law. Both are institutions toward which he manifests a racially sharpened edge because he suspects "they have it in for the brothers like me who earn a lot of money and speak their own mind." Sanders was furious with his treatment after the incident with fans in Richmond. "People get caught with crack and don't get $5,000 bond," he says. "Virginia is the state where slavery started. I didn't have a chance. It's tough being a brother who isn't scared to open his mouth or doesn't have to get up at 6 a.m. to go to work."
Moreover, in Atlanta—which has a 65% black population, a black mayor and, Sanders concedes, "a terrific comfort zone for a black dude like me"—Sanders already has an "enemies list" of local media types, including one troglodyte who recently described Sanders as wearing a "little black hat [that] reminded you of the days when tap dancing was in force."
Not so ironically, the disparate poles at The Atlanta Constitution on Sanders have been represented most vociferously by a black man, editorial columnist Chet Fuller, and a white, sports columnist Bradley.
But it was Fuller who described Sanders as "the latest in a disappointingly long line of hype-mongering sports stars...[who] sickeningly glorify the flashy, quick-success, easy-money lifestyle...cheating thousands of young kids who hang on their every word and can't wait for the day when they, too, sign the multimillion dollar contract and have their chests gold-plated."
And it was Bradley who answered: "If Deion Sanders is a symbol of the young black male, why isn't Troy Aikman a symbol of the young white? Why must prominent blacks have a constituency when prominent whites are free to be regular guys?...[Sanders] is a young man who started out trying to do the right thing, admittedly in a garish way, and who has gotten some of it wrong.... But to overdo isn't a crime, else every teen with spiked hair would be behind bars.... If you don't like Deion Sanders, you're legally dead."
Sanders has even been criticized by a childhood idol, namely the Raiders' former Pro Bowl cornerback Lester Hayes, who last summer attributed Sanders' college success to "chasing down Caucasian Clydesdales" and predicted "his destiny is to spend some time in the penitentiary."
Sanders can only shake his head in dismay. "And I used to have a new Lester Hayes poster in my locker every year," he says. "Hayes is now off my list, along with Bo Jackson, who was never on. Jackson's always ripping me, says people will cut me in half. I've had just the opposite reaction. Dickerson came up and was nice to me. [Cornerback] LeRoy Irvin of the Rams wished me well. All I can say is, this Bo Jackson is one sorry dude who must be jealous another brother is sharing his limelight. I have nothing good to say about him."
It is unlikely that Sanders—who hit .278 at Columbus and .234 for the Yankees—will match Jackson's achievements on the diamond. He has another season left on his two-year, $428,000 Yankee contract (which permits him to leave again next July for the Falcons' training camp). But Deion says, "I'm married to football, baseball is my girlfriend." He even refuses to sign "Prime Time" when autographing baseballs. "Because I'm not Prime Time in baseball," he explains. "One guy just can't dominate over there unless it's my man, Rickey [Henderson, with whom Sanders is often compared as a ballplayer]. But you can't jump around and get excited and go crazy in baseball. Nobody ever masters that game."
Says Campbell, "I told Deion he'll never really love baseball until he can make a tackle going down to first base."