The NFL regular season is set to start in a week, but the league’s most newsworthy figure isn’t a player or coach — it’s Jay-Z. Two weeks ago, the iconic rapper and his Roc Nation entertainment agency announced a long-term partnership with the NFL. For the time being, Jay-Z and Roc Nation will help the league choose music acts for the Super Bowl and other major NFL events. They will also partner with the football league’s Inspire Change campaign, which “supports programs and initiatives that reduce barriers to opportunity,” according to its official site.
There is a chance that Jay could do great things with Inspire Change. But for now, Jay’s latest play is in review when it comes to the court of public opinion. While figures like Diddy have come out to support the partnership, others, like Rihanna believe that “Jay-Z was wrong” to partner with a league that’s still veritably blackballing Colin Kaepernick for his kneeling protest against systemic oppression and state-sanctioned violence.
Jay-Z has gained considerable goodwill in the past several years through charitable gestures such as donating to the Black Lives Matter movement, bailing out protesters during the 2015 Baltimore uprisings, helping Meek Mill and others in their fights against the criminal justice system, and legal assistance with 21 Savage’s battle with ICE. The 49-year-old is a Godfather figure to the rap industry — but he got an offer he couldn’t refuse, and reactions to his decision are mixed.
No matter what Jay-Z does with the NFL, many will agree with music industry veteran Irv Gotti that “it almost looks like the NFL manufactured and manipulated Jay to be the front and face of the bullsh*t” while his presence makes people “forget about” Kaepernick’s plight. During a press conference to announce the union, Jay-Z said that he felt like we were “past kneeling,” and that working with the NFL on reform was “the next actionable step.”
But Colin Kaepernick started the NFL’s social justice movement with his kneeling, and Inspire Change was started by NFL owners in a bid for players to stop kneeling in solidarity with him. There’s a prevailing notion among critics of the deal that as the spearhead of the movement, Kaepernick is the best person to decide what’s “next.” Miami Dolphins player Kenny Stills’ criticized Jay-Z’s comments, reminding him that “he’s not a NFL player. He’s never been on a knee.” Stills also said that Jay-Z was “choosing to speak for the people like he had spoken to the people.”
As long as Kaepernick is without a team, and his still-active peer Eric Reid is given excessive drug tests, deals like Jay-Z’s will look “despicable,” as Reid called the partnership. The Carolina Panther bemoaned that Jay-Z decided to work with the league despite “claiming to be a supporter of Colin — wore his jersey, told people not to perform at the Super Bowl because of the treatment that the NFL did to Colin.” Reid added that Jay-Z has “done a lot of great work, a lot of great social justice work, but for you to get paid to go into an NFL press conference and say that we’re past kneeling? Again, asinine.”
Kaepernick hasn’t spoken out publicly about Jay-Z’s move, but it’s fair to assume that he agrees with his girlfriend (and Hot 97 media personality) Nessa, who went on air the night of the announcement to state that “the disappointment in Jay-Z isn’t in the partnership. The disappointment is wrapping it in Social Justice.” She added that, “I don’t mind you doing a business deal – but I do mind you wrapping it in social justice when you’re working with an organization that denies someone an opportunity,” referring to Kaepernick.