It’s been eight days since NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Jay-Z met Wednesday, Aug. 14, at the offices of Roc Nation here in New York City to announce what instantly became a controversial and polarizing partnership.
The union will have Jay-Z leading the NFL’s entertainment ventures, including creating multiplatform content, and advising on the selection of artists that will partake in the content and perform at the league’s signature events such as the Super Bowl. He will also be significantly engaged in the NFL’s Inspire Change Initiative, which was created earlier this year to advance social justice, education, economic development and criminal justice reform across a wide landscape in this country.
The bold venture between the NFL and Jay-Z also has an underlying objective: to make Colin Kapernick disappear. In 2008 Jay-Z formed Roc Nation, which, as its website maintains, is the “world’s pre-eminent entertainment company.” Since then it has grown an impressive roster of imminently successful music artists and athletes including Rihanna and Kyrie Irving. Roc Nation has also produced profound and illuminating documentary series such as “Time: The Kalief Browder Story” and “Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story.”
Shawn Corey Carter, who will turn 50 in December, in his fascinating ascent from the Marcy Houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, to becoming one of the most iconic global figures of the past three decades, has built the credibility and gravitas to be a transcendent voice of the struggles of Black people in America. But even he can’t silence the strident opposition the NFL continues to face in blackballing Kapernick.
The NFL’s newfound commitment to social and economic issues affecting urban communities was impelled by Kapernick when, in August 2016 at the start of preseason, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback sat on his team’s bench during the ceremonial pregame presentation of the national anthem and subsequently knelt on the sidelines. His peaceful demonstrations to increase scrutiny of shootings of Black men by law enforcement officers was met with both praise and vilification. It spurred a movement that was replicated on nearly every continent by athletes and non-athletes alike that persists today.
Yet Jay-Z, in the opinion of many one the greatest lyricists in the history of the spoken word, uttered a few sentences at the seminal gathering last week with the NFL attended by select members representing television, radio, print and social media platforms that provoked negative reverberations and has countless skeptics questioning his motives.
“I think we’ve moved past kneeling. I think it’s time to go into actionable items,” said Jay-Z. “I don’t want people to stop protesting at all. Kneeling is a form of protest. I support protests across the board. We need to bring light to the issue and I think everyone knows what the issue is. We’re done with that.”
A plethora of socially conscious men and women who continue to steadfastly support Kapernick emotionally interpreted Jay-Z’s position as corporate spin.
“We forget that Colin’s whole thing was to bring attention to social injustice. In that case, this is a success. This is the next phase,” he expounded. “There [are] two parts of protesting. You go outside and you protest, and then the company or the individual says, ‘I hear you. What do we do next?’”
In response to negative publicity and criticism with which the NFL was confronted as myriad of Kapernick’s NFL brethren began keeling in solidarity, the Players’ Coalition, founded by Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and Anquan Boldin, a former Pro Bowl wide receiver and teammate of Kapernick’s with the 49ers who retired in August 2017, began working with the NFL and team owners to enact progressive social change.
The Players’ Coalition has also been beset by strife, as philosophical differences and trust issues among players has led some, most notably Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid, another onetime teammate of Kapernick’s with the 49ers and the first to join him in kneeling, to withdraw from the group.
Kapernick, who hasn’t played in the NFL since the conclusion of the 2016-17 season, after opting-out of the final year of his contract with the 49ers in March 2017, and Reid, settled a collusion lawsuit with the league this past February.
The NFL, which is comprised of roughly 70 percent Black players, is endeavoring to present itself as forward thinking and enlightened. But until it transparently addresses Kapernick being ostracized by owners fearful of the backlash from their largely white, conservative fan base if he’s given a fair chance to win a QB job, and offer him a prominent role in their social justice enterprises, they will continue to be perceived as wolves dressed in casual wear.
“For me, it’s like action, actionable item, what are we gonna do with it?” said Jay-Z. “Everyone heard, we hear what you’re saying, and everybody knows I agree with what you’re saying. So what are we gonna do? You know what I’m saying? [Help] millions and millions of people, or we get stuck on Colin not having a job.”
On Sunday, Kapernick posted this comment on Twitter: “My Brothers @E_Reid35 @KSTiLLS @iThinkIsee12 continue to fight for the people, even in the face of death threats. They have never moved past the people and continue to put their beliefs into action. Stay strong Brothers!!!”
He was referring to Reid and Miami Dolphins teammates Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson, who all knelt during the national anthem prior to their preseason games this past weekend.
No matter how much the NFL and Jay-Z seek to downplay Kapernick’s presence and importance, he remains a central factor and problem for the league. He should be offered a place as a key, active figure in their social justice movement and afforded unconditional equal opportunity to play again.
Those that have called Jay-Z a sellout and Judas are being overly reactionary. He’s proved himself to be intelligent, outspoken, fearless and unquestionably committed to uplifting Black people. He has championed causes for the poor, disenfranchised, oppressed and victimized.
Jay-Z should be given the benefit of the doubt. He’s earned it. But the doubt won’t subside until he unflinchingly compels the NFL to once again open its doors to Kapernick.