Friday, September 15, 2023

As Deion Sanders and Colorado upend college football, detractors are sure to be heard; the legal profession has taught Donald Watkins all about such hostility

Deion Sanders

Deion "Prime Time" Sanders' head-coaching success, first at Jackson State and now at Colorado, is sure to draw barbs in the college-football world. Donald Watkins, longtime Alabama attorney and civil-rights advocate, knows because he has been on the receiving end of similar hostilities in the legal world. From that experience, Watkins offers Sanders some sage advice under the headline "Deion Sanders, This is How I Handled My "Haters" and Jealous People": 

Deion Sanders, after just two wins at Colorado this season, I can feel the hatred towards you growing in the college football coaching world.

I also see the jealousy that some Blacks have towards you solely because you exude confidence, courage, and success in the coaching ranks of big-time college football.

You and the Colorado Buffaloes have turned the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of NCAA football upside-down. You and your team are the talk of the nation.

Today, the Buffaloes are drawing more TV viewers than any FBS team.

You and the Buffaloes are the epicenter of the FBS world. You have single-handedly changed the paradigm and narrative on FBS football.

You have proven that the impossible is possible!

Because of this paradigm shift, the hatred towards you is flaming like a barn fire.

Sanders and his Buffs will try to run their record to 3-0 on the season when they play host to Colorado State on Saturday  in a game that will be nationally televised (9 p.m., central time) by ESPN. After that come games against West-Coast powers Oregon, USC, Arizona State, Stanford, and UCLA. The road ahead is rugged, but in retooling the Colorado roster, Sanders obviously attracted some talented players -- including quarterback Shedeur Sanders (the coach's son) and two-way standout Travis Hunter, who plays almost every snap as a cornerback on defense and a wide receiver on offense. Both players followed "Coach Prime" from Jackson State. The upcoming schedule is a monster, but the Buffs are the talk of college football for now, and some of that talk likely is not pretty. That's where Watkins' advice enters the picture:

As was the case in my long and successful legal career, you must use this hatred and jealousy to fuel your professional success.

When I actively practiced law in Alabama for nearly five decades, I achieved two national records in American jurisprudence that are unbroken today

First, I am the only attorney who led a criminal defense team in defeating federal prosecutors on 85 felony counts against a single defendant – U.S. v. Richard Scrushy (2005). This remarkable feat was profiled in the July 25, 2005, edition of Fortune Magazine. (See article at the end of this post.)

The hatred directed against me in Alabama for winning Richard Scrushy’s case was searing. I took a break from practicing law and moved to Miami one day after the six-month trial ended in the Scrushy case on June 28, 2005.

Second, I hold the longest winning streak for major courtroom trials – at 155 straight victories. This winning streak was broken in October 2017 by a Tampa, Florida-based lawyer named David S. Shankman, who is the best trial lawyer in America today.

Did this record of success earn Watkins friends and respectful treatment among his fellow lawyers? Not exactly:

While amassing my 155 straight courtroom victories, I was subjected to every kind of verbal and courtroom abuse you can imagine from some of Alabama’s most racist federal and state judges. The cheating schemes devised and implemented by these judges for the benefit of my White opponents were non-stop, cold-hearted, and nasty.

Yet, I always found a pathway to victory.

After 74 straight wins for the city of Birmingham, taxpayers filed suit in April 1992 to enjoin the city from utilizing my legal services to represent this client. The plaintiffs claimed I was winning too many cases and making too much money in legal fees. They also sought to have me repay the legal fees I earned for being victorious in these 74 cases. In other words, my excellence in the courtroom was not good enough for them.

The trial judge in this case ostensibly agreed with the plaintiffs by allowing the case to meander in his courtroom.

I appealed the trial judge's mishandling of this case to the Alabama Supreme Court. On July 16, 1993, I won my appeal and continued my successful representation of the city of Birmingham until I retired from law (for the first time) in 1998.

Watkins also was denied a rating that signifies excellence in the legal profession:

The white lawyers who formed the peer-review panels in Alabama’s legal community for the Martindale-Hubbell publication did not award me an “AV” peer review rating until 2005, even though I defeated an army of “AV” rated lawyers while amassing my 155 straight victories during the late 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and early to mid 2000s. Martindale-Hubbell rates all of the lawyers in America who are worthy of a rating. An “AV” peer-review rating is the highest one that is conferred upon an elite group of attorneys in America.

Deion Sanders, for 45 years, I coped in the legal profession with the same intense hatred and jealousy you are experiencing from dominating the FBS football coaching profession today.

The Bar Association elites in Alabama viewed my courtroom victories as “miracles” and “stunners,” rather than the consistent display of intellectual acumen, intense preparation, and flawless execution in the face of a flood of cheating by some judges that created an unlevel playing field.

Deion Sanders, you will face the same circumstances with each victory the Buffaloes achieve this season, especially as you continue to outshine top-tier White coaches in FBS football.

I never allowed my decision-making inside the courtroom to be influenced by emotional outbursts, even when a couple of White lawyers physically attacked me in the courtroom solely because I was winning my cases. I acted indifferent to this violence and the cheating by trial judges and focused on the flawless execution of my courtroom game plan.

Thrashings in the press? That was part of the abuse Watkins faced:

I totally ignored the negative news coverage that was constantly generated by many reporters from Alabama media organizations who covered my trials. They have always portrayed my clients and me in the most demeaning way possible.

In my personal case (2018-2019), a reporter and columnist for the Birmingham News named John Archibald literally made up a fake racist quotation and attributed it to me on multiple occasions to poison potential White jurors against me. Even after the News belatedly retracted Archibald's fake racist quote and publicly apologized to me, it was too late – the damage had been done in Birmingham’s White community.

Which brings me to my next point – always control the narrative around your name, image, and likeness, to the extent possible. I do this today by publishing multimedia content under my name and brand across multiple social-media platforms owned and controlled by me.

Because of my long and effective record of protecting and advancing civil rights in Alabama, leading members of the state’s ultra-conservative political establishment, law-enforcement community, right-wing judiciary, and captive mainstream media have gone to great lengths to portray me in the most negative light possible on various Internet platforms. This concerted effort is a continuation of Alabama's well-known and documented role in the FBI's original COINTELPRO program.

Today, these regressive forces are leading Alabama’s open defiance of federal court orders in Milligan v. Allen that seek to create a second black Congressional district in a state that is nearly 27% Black.

I never outsource my professional brand to news reporters who are free to re-imagine it through the lens of their personal prejudices and the media spin dictated to them by my adversaries.

I also realize that, in America, no one will tell the truth in our favor, but us. I fully understand the historical reasons for this sad fact, especially during this turbulent period when so many right-wing politicians are trying to erase the 400-year history of our people in America.

You have the opportunity to tell our stories to a national audience. Keep doing it. Your stories are our stories in more ways than you know.

I realized early on that very few Blacks in America have the courage to do what it takes to dominate within in a traditionally White zone of business competition. In fact, many "Old School" Blacks still preach to talented and gifted young Black men and women that they cannot achieve dominance in  traditionally white businesses and professions that require specialized knowledge, skills, abilities, and access to capital and other tangible resources.

As a result of this false programming, many of our talented and gifted young men and women surrender their competitive aspirations to a self-imposed inferiority complex. As a race, we must break out of this kind of inferiority complex.

Deion Sanders, I don’t subscribe to this misguided philosophy, and neither do you.

My parents, K-12 schools, childhood community, and church never yoked me with the badge of inferiority that cripples so many Black professionals and business owners today.

My performance in the courtroom was always driven by the unrelenting exercise of intellectual acumen, intense preparation, and the ability to motivate my litigation team members to achieve excellence in reaching a common goal -- victory.

You exhibit the same attributes in the FBS football coaching profession.

Deion Sanders, whatever you do going forward, do not let anyone stand in your way as you climb to the mountaintop of FBS football. Tune out all haters and their small-minded jealousy.

I believe!


Fortune Magazine, 2005



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