For decades, the nation’s top Black high school athletes have committed to predominately white colleges. Travis Hunter choosing HBCU Jackson State, led by Deion Sanders, could signal a turning of the tides.
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Jackson State University vs Alabama A&M football game
Credit: David E. Klutho/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

Travis Hunter, the number one high school football recruit who originally committed to Florida State University, officially committed to Jackson State University on Wednesday. Hunter's change of plans to attend and play at an HBCU (historically Black college and university) has Black communities thrilled.

Sports fans around the country watched Hunter sit at what is known as the traditional signing day meeting, where a recruit sits in front of hats of their top school choices and then puts on the hat of the school they have decided to commit to. In the beginning, Hunter's signing day was no different. He sat in front of three hats: Florida State, University of Georgia, and Auburn University. Going down the line of each hat, Hunter, one by one, tossed all three of the schools' hats to the side. Once he got to the end, he unzipped his jacket to show a Jackson State "believe" T-shirt as someone threw a Jackson State hat for him to put on. It was an announcement that shocked football fans. The top high school recruit had foregone some of the so-called best college football schools to go to an HBCU, something we typically have not seen before. Travis was making a statement, and we are here for it.

For decades, Black athletes have reported feeling taken advantage of by the predominantly white institutions (PWIs) they play for — bringing in fans and profits with their athleticism yet getting nothing back in return and still having to reckon with racism on PWI campuses. Top Division 1 PWIs have sought after talented young Black athletes to play for their teams, bringing the schools millions of dollars in revenue from fans who pay top dollar to see these top players in action. Under new NCAA rules, athletes can now be paid for sponsorships, including social media campaigns, endorsement deals, autograph signings, and other financial opportunities. However, many PWIs historically and problematically use young Black men for their monetary gain while simultaneously having strong harmful viewpoints on systematically racist issues within society.

Other institutions have long been silent in supporting Black students and athletes in their fight for equal rights and justice. For many of these PWIs to not even vocally support their Black students is a slap in the face to these athletes who add so much value to their schools. PWIs using their platforms to take a strong stance about racism would speak volumes to their predominantly white alumnus, donors, and fans. If PWI schools want Black athletes to commit to their schools but don't speak out for the livelihood of their players, why should Black athletes want to bring their talents there?

Meanwhile, Deion Sanders, an NFL hall of fame player and the head coach of Jackson State, has not been shy about recruiting top athletes for the HBCU. Sanders recruiting Hunter to Jackson State is monumental, as this could be just the beginning of a power shift away from the PWIs and into the hands of these Black athletes and HBCUs. Hunter's commitment to Jackson State shows that these athletes have the power to take control of the football realm, and with them goes the money that these schools gained from these athletes' talent.

Top football programs at PWIs only exist because of the talent of Black athletes. Black athletes realize their power, and with the leadership of coaches like Sanders, HBCUs can also have top football programs. The move can also put pressure onto PWIs to finally care about the livelihood of their Black students and start acknowledging the issues that Black communities face. No longer are PWIs the only option for top athletes who want to play professionally. The reality is, HBCUs have just as much to offer as PWIs do. For Black students, HBCUs can also provide what PWIs simply cannot: an experience where they are seen and are no longer the minority. In fact, HBCUs have produced some of the greats in sports — Jerry Rice, Doug Williams, and Walter Payton.

While Travis Hunter committing to Jackson State may be a small step in a significant and ongoing issue, it is nothing to overlook. Hunter committing to an HBCU is momentous in the power shift of Black athletes over these PWIs. This could be the beginning of a larger shift that spurs change in the college football arena overall, and that's why Hunter's decision matters. It's paved the way for future Black athletes to attend colleges where they feel accepted and not threatened. It matters because these Black men won't feel forced to choose between the best sports schools and where they feel comfortable. They can do both. It matters because Black student athletes have a say in who they get to represent with their name on the back of their jerseys — and because recognizing the greatness at HBCUs is long overdue.