Back in the summer of 2009, two years before Colin Kaepernick’s first season in the NFL, a police officer responded to a 911 caller’s report of a potential house burglary in Cambridge, Massachusetts. By the time the officer arrived on the scene (in broad daylight), there was a man, who was Black, already inside the affluent home. Turns out, the home belonged to that same Black man, who had just returned from a long trip overseas.
Since summer heat causes wood to expand, he had to force the front door open. And since this article is about the NFL, you probably think the man was a young, big football player dressed in streetwear, therefore easily suspicious by racist standards. Nope. An accurate description of the “suspect” was a short, 58-year-old man wearing grey slacks and a striped Polo shirt – none other than Harvard Professor Henry “Skip” Louis Gates, Jr. He was ultimately arrested, in his own home, no less, for disorderly conduct.
There was no public statement issued by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. And why would there be? A Black man getting treated unfairly has nothing to do with him. Yet, the fallout from the incident went all the way to the White House, where then-President Barack Obama invited Professor Gates and the arresting officer for a friendly meeting in the Rose Garden. It was soon dubbed the “Beer Summit.”
Ten years later, Kraft (friend and donor to current President Donald Trump), was arrested for soliciting prostitution in February. Just one month prior to his charges, he teamed up with recording artist and entrepreneur Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and others to form a criminal justice organization called the REFORM Alliance. Kraft’s passionate involvement stemmed from a visit to Meek Mill when the rapper was behind bars for violating the terms of his probation. Kraft said he had never been to a jail facility before that point. At the same time, Jay was executive producing a docu-series for Amazon Prime based on Meek’s situation. Then, while Meek was still in jail, Jay and wife Beyoncé released a joint album. On the lead single “Ape Shit,” Jay-Z raps:
“I said no to the Superbowl, you need me, I don’t need you
Every night we in the end zone, tell the NFL we in stadiums too.”
Kraft is a long-time billionaire, largely in part to sold-out games in stadiums. Shawn Carter is a newbie billionaire, largely in part to selling out shows in stadiums. Apparently, some billionaires need each other like they need workers to clean up after their events.
During the same month of the REFORM Alliance launch, it was reported Kraft and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell flew to Los Angeles to have their first meeting together with Mr. Carter. Kraft subsequently brokered multiple meetings and on Aug. 13th, right before the start of the season, the official partnership between the NFL and Roc Nation was announced.
The blowback was swift and divisive, pitting factions of profiteers versus protestors, the latter of which Kaepernick was the symbolic martyr. Here’s the hard truth: Sacrificing a career to bring awareness to a specific issue of injustice is of the highest nobility but not necessarily something the NFL has control over. This places a big hole in boycott demands.
Now, did Kaepernick get blacklisted by the NFL? Without a doubt. Did he reach a settlement of which the details were kept confidential? Yes. Therefore, let’s not conflate the protest with the man.
Now, is Jay being used by the NFL in a typical divide and conquer strategy? Absolutely. Does having the two biggest and beloved Latina singers headline the Super Bowl Halftime show add another layer of division? Sí.
During the press conference to announce the partnership, one-take Hov repeated the same question like the worst chorus he ever made. In the call and response, he asked various reporters:
“I think everyone knows what the issue is; do you know what the issue is?”
Each reporter answered, “Police brutality.”
If that’s simply the case, why weren’t any law enforcement leaders at the press conference? Wait, all those beer sponsors and no Beer Summit?
Jay should’ve stayed in Food and Beverage; now, his billionaire’s boy’s club initiation means being in charge of a dog and pony show in order to be part of the bread and circus ruling class – and there’s a different set of rules they abide by there.
If you notice, Goodell made no mea culpa for his mishandling of players’ First Amendment rights. Certainly, he and Kraft have the power to compel a police official to give a brief statement for the sake of optics; at the very least acknowledging the Black community’s concerns of excessive force. Or, would that go against the deeper interests of those who protect and serve their core fan base and their country clubs? Black membership has its privileges, but they will never be white privilege.
In this case, Hov’s hustle acumen misread a moral choice as a business decision, mainly because he was the only person in a position to pull it off (the Jermaine Dupri rumored option lacked substantial bargaining power). Jay’s leverage included his long-standing high approval rating among the people, his strong track record supporting social justice, the sheer presence of his wife and the rapid growth of his artist and sports roster at Roc Nation. The question is: Will his representation of players be compromised by his owner’s box ambition?
It feels like just yesterday when Jay and his friend The Notorious B.I.G. envisioned an illustrious joint-chief crew called “The Commission.” Now, beyond the wildest dreams of “Mo’ Money,” Jay’s replacement squad consisting of the NFL commissioner and the Kraft Group Chair/CEO is the “Mo’ Problems” backlash.
What a phenomenal dilemma for a kid from Marcy projects.
For the rest of us, the choices aren’t as sweet. It seems like the boycott has become less of a unified front and more of a personalized protest. Some will only watch their favorite teams, others are only watching highlights. Many who are also disgusted by how the NFL has handled concussion health care and domestic violence punishment have vowed not to watch another game in their lifetime even if Kaepernick returns. The problem is, one man getting his job back isn’t social justice; its social appeasement. Wearing his jersey will still put you in danger against those who love Football Sundays and hate Mondays. Black people aren’t truly protected by free speech. The cost can be life-risking while white punishment will never be severe enough to deter the hate crime from repeating.
Think about this: The first Black president of the United States and leader of the so-called free world was forced to make a public apology for saying the officer who arrested Professor Gates “acted stupidly.” Obama tried to spin it as a “teachable moment,” but who was the lesson for?
The violence against Black people increased so much during his two terms that a man who made it to the Super Bowl felt compelled to exercise his right as an American to peacefully protest something that was becoming a bad apple epidemic. I wonder what the officer who arrested Professor Gates thinks of the protest? I don’t care, but I’m curious. I’m curious if he ever apologized. What about the person who first called the police – did she apologize? I wonder what she thinks about last year’s wave of white people caught calling the police on us for minding our business #WhileBlack? Gates was merely arrested, Botham Jean was murdered in his own home – that’s a heavy price to pay for yet another teachable moment. In the history of unarmed Black people dying at the hands of cops, how many times have they apologized, offered condolences or given us hugs in court?
Kraft and Goodell will never have to apologize, especially now that they have S. Carter, their first Black president, as a buffer. The NBA may have gotten rid of Donald Sterling but the NFL ain’t NEVER getting rid of one of their owners for being a bigot. I guess we’re not supposed to hate the player but hate the game. In this case, the game is white supremacy. Are you not entertained?
I trust and respect Jay, he’s earned it. Unlike Reaganomics, Roc Nation seems to be a legitimate trickle-down economy. But I don’t trust the NFL, a predominately Black workforce built on no guarantees. In exchange for a bigger entertainment budget, I’m not sure what changes. Matter of fact, last season a police union tried to protest the NFL for allowing some Miami Dolphins players to take a knee. They said it was disrespectful to the “first responders,” which sounds like a euphemism to encompass good emergency servants with those who take pride in being a ghetto Gestapo. So with this year’s Super Bowl being in Miami, a city with a large Hispanic population, will Jennifer Lopez and Shakira be ALLOWED to take a knee against immigration policies of child separation? Is that in the Roc Nation/NFL contract?
It’s a dangerous love affair. Who’s gonna run that town that night?
One person who wants answers is “Uncle” Luke Campbell. When Miami Bass was viewed as a sub-set of hip-hop where he was the Benny Hill of a Planet Rock loop, Luke refused to be dismissed. He culturally patented instructional moves for specific lady parts in Daisy Duke shorts, laying the foundation for all things twerk. More importantly, he doesn’t get enough recognition for his landmark Supreme Court victory which protects so many of today’s artists. Uncle Luke is a bona fide Godfather of music business (who has also witnessed the boy’s club bigotry and debauchery of his 1% neighbors), which is why his latest rant criticizing Jay exposes a limited understanding of the compound interest of corporate high-yield. Luke is talking G-code in the street while Jay is talking tax code and oxygen rights above his head. Jay doesn’t have to “check-in” with Trick Daddy and Rick Ross, he has to check-in with Micky Arison and Stephen M. Ross.
Jay’s glass-bottom floor is most of our ceilings and that’s hard for some to cope with. Too often our community mouthpieces are reactionary and not good at reading audible plays of empowerment. The reason you haven’t heard from Pitbull is because he’s made himself a likable hitmaker who infuses all 305 sound machines. So everybody else, sit tight and wait for a courtesy call from DJ Khaled as the Roc administration tries to accommodate cameos. Question, though: Does having Flo Rida perform at halftime change Stand Your Ground laws? See how easy it becomes about slighted egos when not too long ago artists were canceling show dates in protest of gun legislation after the Parkland Shooting? Capitalism, societal ills and integrity is a collision course of moral decision-making for all strivers, so let’s be more consistent with our complaints when spewing a “sellout” narrative.
But no matter how well you make a good point, it’s hard to tell people how they should feel, especially when they’re passionate about a cause. Ask WNBA star Maya Moore why she is taking off a season to fight for the justice of ONE man. There’s a picket line fervor that isn’t easily bought by charity concerts. People can’t always identify what’s right for the long term but they damn sure know what’s wrong in the here and now. Most don’t understand the mechanics of case law, they just feel trapped in a system where the outcome is always the same. So at this point, they just want Kaepernick to get his job back. It’s such an easy fix of symbolic reparation. Yet, despite football being a body armored contact sport, the stubborn white pride of team owners refuses to take the hit of a handless glove.
This situation is a side wager of sins, in a league where various “isms” fester. The civil rights mantra of keeping your eyes on the prize now entails trying not to be distracted by hips that don’t lie. None of this is fair to everyday people who look forward to having Sundays off. If they can’t simply enjoy the game, they want to know what exactly this prize is?
On “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” a hit from Jay’s debut album, “Reasonable Doubt,” the way he ended the last verse always stood out in a manner of theory that’s not easily refutable. It’s a chillingly simplistic declaration of manifest destiny, hence power, based on proven influence and not pedagogic ideology. Jay raps:
“Let’s get together and make this whole world believe us, huh
At my arraignment screaming
All us blacks got is sports and entertainment, until we even…”
The inherent problem with those last three words – “until we’re even” – is that Jay’s making a case for liberation … in handcuffs. Two decades later, he’s the owner of a sports and entertainment company, making the exact same case at Meek’s arraignment – in cufflinks. What’s Free?
Trevor is a creative mercenary and ethical lobbyist born and raised on Beale Street. Follow him on Twitter @trevbetter.