What a week it has been for the NFL and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z. Last Tuesday, it was leaked that the newly minted billionaire entered into a partnership with the NFL. The following day, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Jay-Z held a press conference at the Roc Nation New York office to formally announce their partnership.
Roc Nation will now serve as the NFL’s official Live Music Entertainment Strategists. As a part of the partnership, Roc Nation and the NFL has committed to nurturing and strengthening the community through music and the NFL’s Inspire Change initiative. Upon the initial announcement and after the press conference, the sports and hip-hop community went into a frenzy. Critics immediately began calling Jay-Z a sell-out, leading to days of debate about Jay-Z’s handling of the deal. Here we are yet again focusing on the wrong issue in regards to Colin Kaepernick’s protest.
Every season, Kaepernick’s message and general-purpose gets co-opted by something. In 2016-2017 it was overtaken by those who wanted to make his protest about the United States flag and military and use it for political capital. Last year, it was the rift between Eric Reid, Malcolm Jenkins, and the Players Coalition. This year it is Jay-Z’s partnership with the NFL. While Jay-Z may deserve some criticism, calling him a sellout is going a bit far. People should not rush to judge this partnership, let’s see how it plays out. There is likely to be a lot of good that comes out it. Most importantly, people should not allow Kaepernick’s message to get lost in the noise over this partnership.
Colin Kaepernick’s Sacrifice
Three years ago, Colin Kaepernick began protesting police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem. Kaepernick began his protest in the wake of the brutal deaths of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and countless others who lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement. Kaepernick stated clearly that his protest was about police brutality. However, many viewed his protest as disrespectful to the United States flag and military. As a result, the country became very divided on the issue. Kaepernick was subsequently blackballed from the league. Kaepernick still does not have a job with the NFL.
Why Some Are Calling Jay-Z a Sellout for Entering into the Partnership
As a result of Kaepernick’s protest and some other issues, the NFL’s image has been suffering. The NFL is fighting concussion cases in court. The league continuously has to address its poor and inconsistent handling of domestic violence cases. Perhaps the thorniest thorn in the NFL’s side is Colin Kaepernick. Although the NFL settled the collusion grievance with Kaepernick, the NFL still cannot shake the effects of his protest. Players are still kneeling, which angers a certain demographic of the NFL’s fan base. Countless artists turned down the invitation to perform during the Super Bowl half-time show in solidarity with Kaepernick. One of those artists was Jay-Z.
Jay-Z was one of the Loudest Critics of the NFL
Jay-Z has been one of the most vocal critics of the NFL for their blackballing of Colin Kaepernick. He wore a Kaepernick jersey on Saturday Night Live in 2017. Last summer, Jay-Z famously criticized the NFL in the Carters hit single ApeShit. Jay-Z stated, “I said no the Super Bowl, You need me, I don’t need you. Every night we in the end zone, Tell the NFL we in stadiums too.” Jay-Z also reportedly encouraged other artists to “say no” to the Super Bowl. It is for these reasons that some have called Jay-Z is a sellout for creating this partnership. It is for these reasons that many were baffled by the partnership and wondered how it came to be.
Labeling Jay-Z a Sellout is Going a bit Far and the Debate Runs of the Risk of Co-Opting Kaepernick’s Movement
While Jay-Z may deserve some criticism for this deal, labeling him as a sell-out is going a bit far. He has done a lot for the black community. Jay-Z has been a major proponent of criminal justice reform. He created a platform for the Trayvon Martin docu-series. Jay-Z tried to help Kalief Browder, a teen who was incarcerated in Rikers Island for three years after being wrongfully accused of robbery. Browder spent a great amount of his imprisonment in solitary confinement. He ultimately committed suicide after he was released. Jay-Z made sure everyone knew his story. He has demonstrated a commitment to social justice and criminal justice reform. Jay-Z should have to answer questions about the deal, particularly what changed his mind about working with the NFL. However, labeling him as a sell-out is going a bit far.
It is true that Jay-Z should have handled the optics surrounding the announcement of the partnership better. He certainly should have found a better way to answer the question about if he would kneel. He should not have said that “we are past kneeling.” Doing that only fed into the narrative that the NFL wants to create. That narrative is that players should be past kneeling. Look we have this deal with Jay-Z to promote social justice, so there is no need to kneel. However, that view is wrong and should be dismissed.
Police brutality is still an issue. There is certainly still a reason to kneel for any player who chooses to protest in that way. Jay-Z also stated in the press conference that he supports any protest that is effective. There is no question that Kaepernick’s kneeling has been effective. It certainly has. However, the media did not focus on that. Again taking the focus from why Kaepernick kneeled in the first place. Focusing on Jay-Z’s words has allowed the message of the movement to be co-opted yet again.
Let’s Refocus on the Issues Kaepernick Gave his Career for
Focusing on whether Jay-Z is a sellout is giving the NFL what they want. Instead of talking about police brutality and other issues that plague minority communities, everyone is debating if Jay-Z is a sell-out. These are the wrong questions to focus on. The focus should be on police brutality and what this partnership is going to do to combat the issue. This partnership should be held to a high standard. The partnership must produce tangible outcomes for the betterment of dealing with police brutality and other social causes. In the end, that is what Jay-Z stated he wants with this partnership to do in the press conference.
Jay-Z had to know that this deal was going to be met with the exact criticism that it has received. With that knowledge, it is likely that he is working towards something greater that has yet to reveal itself. Perhaps his greater plan could be in the reports that he may acquire an ownership interest in an NFL team. Having minority ownership could go a long way in the NFL. If that happens, perhaps Jay-Z could help Kaepernick get on a team.
At the very least, Jay-Z could bring a perspective to NFL ownership that has never been there. He could tell them that it is not tolerable to refer to NFL players as inmates. Perhaps as an owner Jay-Z can help make sure that the next player who takes a stand like Kaepernick does not lose his career for it. Let’s not rush to judgment. Let’s see how this partnership plays out.
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