If Jay-Z really does have 99 problems, one of them might be trying to reconcile all the progress he’s made as a fledgling social justice icon with his new business alliance with the NFL. But after a series of photos were released Wednesday showing Jay cavorting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, laughing it up with someone who many people consider to be among the so-called enemies targeted by Colin Kaepernick’s protest for social justice, the optics compounded with the questionable nature of the deal prompted questions galore about Jay’s true intentions.
In case you missed it, the deal, announced Monday, would allow Jay-Z and his Roc Nation to manage “some entertainment options for the league and will tie into the sport’s social justice endeavors.” That includes being able to control key aspects of the NFL’s Super Bowl halftime show that was famously snubbed by Beyonce’s husband last year.
However, since the deal was very much announced in the context of social justice, many people found the glaring absence of Kaepernick’s involvement in the partnership as at best hypocritical of Jay, who once wore the quarterback’s jersey while performing on Saturday Night Live in an apparent showing of solidarity with the cause. Because of that, some people were compelled to tweet using the hashtag, “#ImStillWithKap.
Those tweets were part of a broader campaign from some high-profile folks on social media. Even Dr. Cornell W. Brooks, the former president of the vaunted NAACP, a civil rights bastion for more than a century, seemed to take umbrage at the deal when he tweeted the implication that Jay-Z may have sold [out?] to the highest bidder.
Others haven’t been quite as vague with their assessments of what they see as being a step backward in the continuing fight for social as well as criminal justice for black America. David Dennis Jr., senior culture editor at iOneDigital, wrote in Playboy that the partnership felt to him like “a gut punch.” The Atlantic’s Jemele Hill wrote more matter of factly Thursday morning that Jay-Z’s move was helping “the NFL banish Colin Kaepernick.”
On Wednesday, Kaepernick marked the third year of his kneeling protest during the playing of the national anthem with a social media post of his own saying in no uncertain terms that he would continue “to work and stand with the people in our fight for liberation, despite those who are trying to erase the movement!”
However, while the aforementioned criticism is valid, if not conditional upon learning more about the finer points of the deal, the proverbial jury on whether Jay sold out probably shouldn’t return a verdict so hastily. After all, at this stage in his career, what with all his myriad accomplishments both professional and personal, as well as his stated and exemplary dedication to Black culture, is it really fair to paint Jay with the same broad strokes used for a painting a portrait of, say, Michael Jordan, who has long been criticized for not doing enough?
Aside from superficial offerings like having a song called “My President Is Black” and performing at the inauguration of the first Black president — does it get any Blacker than that in this day and age? — Jay-Z already has an enviable record of advocating both in public and quietly from behind the scenes to achieve social justice wins in a number of cases. He’s documented the tragedies of Trayvon Martin and Kalief Browder and immortalized them so that they live forever on the big screen. Jay also recently announced his intentions to produce a TV show — dubbed “Women of the Movement” — to capture stories from the Jim Crow era through the lens of Black women. He’s also injected himself into national conversations surrounding racial bias from police, like when Jay offered to bankroll legal fees for a Black family held at gunpoint by Phoenix cops in June.
And, oh yeah, he’s also a patriot. “When the twin towers fell I was the first in line,” he once reminded listeners.
So when you combine Jay’s clear enthusiasm for the social justice movement with his business acumen that has also seen him enjoy a successful stint as a minority owner in the NBA, his partnership with the NFL should, in theory, seem like a no-brainer.
While some were rightfully concerned that the NFL leadership — disproportionately made up of white male billionaires — would use its newfound association with Jay to falsely demonstrate its tolerance for diversity and inclusion, it was hard for this writer to jump to that particular conclusion so quickly without knowing the full details of the partnership.
Another look to the past shows that Jay typically has had a plan for every venture he’s ever been a part of. That was true when he signed on with the then-New Jersey Nets before successfully negotiating the franchise’s move across the river to his native Brooklyn. In that instance, that was clearly an unannounced priority — an end game, if you will — for Jay. In other words, he had a plan. Why should we think he doesn’t have one now? If there’s anybody who deserves the benefit of the doubt in this context, it’s Jay.
He’s always seemed to see the bigger picture. When most rappers were looking for a record deal back in the 90s, Jay was busy starting his own company to make sure he owned the rights to his music. When people were lining the pockets of white fashion designers, he started his own Black-owned line. When CD sales took a dip, he bought his own streaming service that has become a raging success. The list of impressive business accomplishments doesn’t stop there, and many of them, for the most part, have benefitted Black people and the culture at large.
Considering that type of track record, it may be prudent for us all to sit back and watch how Jay’s partnership with the NFL unfolds. Could it be that Jay was tired of watching progress for social justice being stalled on the football field and decided to be a renegade and try to “takeover” the NFL, like his other conquests? All puns aside, based on all of the above, how can we say no?