Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Roc Nation
JAY-Z & Roc Nation Have Aligned Themselves with the NFL — But At What Cost?
JAY-Z might have a genuine concern for issues centered around black people, but he's an unapologetic capitalist first — meaning money, power, and respect is his priority.
Throughout nearly every social justice movement, whether it be the civil rights movement, the Stonewall rebellion that would lead to PRIDE, or the Black Lives Matter movement, capitalists have always played their role. For better or worse. Shawn "JAY-Z" Carter and Roc Nation's new partnership with the NFL and its connection with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick — who sacrificed his football career to protest police violence and social inequality against Black Americans — is no different.
On Wednesday, JAY-Z and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell held a press conference in New York City to announce an unprecedented and landmark partnership between the league and Roc Nation for the latter to lead their entertainment ventures. As reported by The New York Times, "Roc Nation and JAY-Z will consult on entertainment, including the Super Bowl halftime show, and contribute to the league's activism campaign, Inspire Change."
What Jay told the press inside the Roc Nation offices incensed many who stood — or kneeled — with Kaepernick.
"I think that we forget that Colin’s whole thing was to bring attention to social injustice, correct?" Jay said. "So, in that case, this is a success; this is the next thing. 'Cause there's 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?’ So, for me, it was like, action, actionable item, what are we going to do with it? Everyone heard and we hear what you’re saying, and everybody knows I agree with what you’re saying. So what are we going to do? So we should, millions of millions of people, and all we get stuck on [is] Colin not having a job. I think we’re past kneeling. I think it’s time for action.”
The backlash, based on the deal's exclusion of Kaepernick and Eric Reid — Kaepernick's former 49ers teammate who also protested — was rightfully warranted against Jay, who had staunchly supported the former's protest. Everything looks funny in the light as it all happens not too long after Miami Dolphins owner and RISE (Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality) founder Stephen Ross was exposed for having a fundraiser for Donald Trump. The deal's announcement also came within the same week as Kaepernick's three year anniversary of him taking a knee during the national anthem. The act made him a hero among black folks, and a marked man by many of the right-wing leaning owners who make up the league, as none of them have since signed him to a team.
In turn, it makes Jay a marked man by association as his power-play comes off as a spit in the face to the cause that Kaepernick stood for, as well as the man himself. And while it does not strip away all of Jay's positive and impactful contributions to social justice movements such as his work toward criminal justice reform, it somewhat damaged his credibility as a social justice advocate. The deal looks even shadier knowing that Kaepernick nor Reid were involved, despite Jay's claims that he spoke to him. (Hot 97 personality and Kaepernick's partner Ness Diab denied that the two spoke prior to the deal's announcement on Twitter.)
And while I believe Jay has a genuine concern for issues centered around black people, how are we supposed to take his advocacy when we all know that he is an unapologetic capitalist first? A capitalist who I believe has the well-meaning intention to push the culture and genre of hip-hop to audiences who might not understand us in an attempt to build bridges. But an opportunist capitalist nonetheless, meaning that money, power, and respect is the priority.
Capitalists who are advocates of social justice are complicated. On the one hand, the money, resources, and mass awareness they create make a difference, as we see with Hov's work in criminal justice reform. On the other hand, many capitalists benefit from harmful economic policies that are slanted for the wealthy and investments in properties or agendas that harm underserved communities. (Case in point: Jay's ownership stack in the Brooklyn Nets — which he's since sold).Again, that's not to say Jay and people like him are insincere, but they are, knowingly or unknowingly, playing both sides of a dirty game between big business and big justice.
The way that the NFL has treated and continues to treat Kaepernick, despite the fact he settled his collusion case with the league, is disgraceful. And as long as you have NFL team owners who support the Trump administration like Stephen Ross or those who force their players to stand for the United States anthem and warp the original context and intent of the protests into something perverted, I doubt that their attitude toward him changes. However, considering Jay's blessing from Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a new door for change may possibly have been cracked — slightly.
And make no mistake, there are some huge benefits we may see from the Roc Nation, NFL partnership. There are opportunities to bring further awareness to social justice causes that the NFL has consistently been on the wrong side of such as police violence, race relations, domestic abuse, and opioid addiction. And as far as the entertainment aspect, we may finally see hip-hop and black culture vaulted to a much higher priority. I'd be lying if I said that I wouldn't catch goosebumps seeing Meek Mill, 21 Savage, or Rick Ross headline the Super Bowl.
Hip-Hop would be winning. The only problem is — at what cost?
Mark P. Braboy is the sentient form of your weirdest flex who just so happens to be a music journalist and photographer based on the South Side of Chicago. He's been published in 10 of your favorite outlets, interviewed music legends and rookies alike, and is a proud alum of Jackson State University. Also stans for cannabis equity for black and brown people and weed songs you're sleeping on. Follow him @Shootyourmark