During a Wednesday panel discussion in Tampa, Fla., Ohio Gov. John Kasich praised Brooklyn Nets part-owner Jay-Z as a model of entrepreneurship whose success presents a compelling argument for increased emphasis on business development and ownership in America's urban communities.
Kasich, a Republican who served nine terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1983 through 2001 before winning Ohio's 2010 gubernatorial race, made his comments during an event hosted by The Huffington Post on the topics of job creation, business growth and unemployment solutions held during the 2012 Republican National Convention.
"You know where entrepreneurship, in my opinion, has to go? Into the inner city," said Kasich, whose nine-year 21st-century stint in the private sector included six years as a commentator and host on Fox News Channel. "We have to convince African-Americans that they can start and own businesses, and I was just laughing the other day, reading that great article about Jay-Z, who's got a tiny little ownership of the Newark Nets, and he's running the whole God-darn place now."
Kasich was presumably referring to a piece written by journalist David M. Halbfinger and published in the Aug. 15, 2012, edition of the New York Times that details the considerable influence that Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, wields in the rebooted Nets organization despite owning "a scant one-fifteenth of one percent of the team" and "just under a fifth of a percent" of the new Barclays Center after investing $1 million nine years ago, when the team was still in New Jersey. (Contrary to Kasich's remarks, the Nets are not in Newark anymore.)
"People like that, you know, who have shown that they can come from the streets and have a tough beginning, and then be able to become incredible entrepreneurs ... we've got to get that into our schools in the inner cities, and we've got to show kids that you can be what you want to be," Kasich said.
The juxtaposition is more than a bit awkward (buying a sliver of a nine-figure franchise in a multibillion-dollar industry isn't quite the same as renting a storefront and hanging a shingle on Main Street) and feels somewhat contrived — after all, it's difficult to imagine the 60-year-old GOP governor being equally enthusiastic about Jay's path to making the money that enabled him to buy into the Nets, a road that began with (likely exaggerated) drug-dealing in Brooklyn's Marcy Projects and continued through a 16-plus-year career making hip-hop music that has frequently included vulgar, violent and misogynist lyrical content. (On the latter score, Jay expressed regret for some of his past verses in October 2010 ... then dropped a track called "That's My Bitch" on "Watch the Throne" in August 2011 ... then reportedly decided to table that talk after the birth of his first daughter earlier this year ... then quickly denied that. Wherever that leaves us.)
There's also the element of pandering to consider, of course. Politicians are forever looking to appear cool to their electorates, and less than 24 hours before jockin' Jay-Z, Kasich took the stage at the RNC to the strains of the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" and told attendees, "You know, you know, I don't know about you, I don't about you but I've got a feeling, you know I gotta feeling ... that we're about to elect a new president of the United States of America." That didn't sit too well with Black Eyed Peas frontman/producer will.i.am, who took Kasich to task for opposing the auto industry bailout that ultimately helped reduce unemployment and bolster the Ohio economy, albeit by no means alone.
Plus, emphasizing the importance of helping African-Americans participate fully in prosperity would seem like a good political look a week after the chairman of the Franklin County, Ohio, Republican Party told the Columbus Dispatch that "we shouldn't contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine" in response to a question about the fight over whether to restore early in-person voting hours on weekends and later on weekday evenings in Ohio. Especially for a governor who just last year was accused of telling an African-American female Ohio state senator that he didn't "need your people" in response to critiques of his all-white and predominantly male cabinet.
All that said: The point actually Kasich made, even if there are myriad other elements to consider — that seeing an African-American businessman playing an integral part in the decision-making, marketing, branding and presentation of a professional sports franchise is a positive thing — seems pretty much dead-on.
Maybe Jay-Z isn't "running the whole God-darn place now," as Kasich put it, but as the Times piece noted, he's surely made an impact. He was instrumental in designing the logo and color scheme that are now popping up all over New York City. His hometown and hip-hop credibility helped quiet some (but certainly not all) of the rancor over the transformative project of sweeping out residents to build an arena in Brooklyn.
His Barclays-opening string of shows built plenty of buzz (and sold plenty of tickets) well before the arena was even finished, and his commitment to establishing the Nets as a new, vital, successful franchise that has shed its largely moribund New Jersey history has been instrumental in shaping the way the lion's share of basketball fans think about the team. (The little matter of majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov shelling out about $340 million in player contracts this offseason to bolster the talent base of a Nets team that has gone 58-172 over the past three seasons sure hasn't hurt, either.)
More than that, though, he's provided another prominent non-white figure in American major professional sports ownership, one of the least diverse collections of people there is, even among the fabulously wealthy. Sure, he might have just a miniscule fraction of the whole Nets pie and he's far from the first member of an ethnic minority in America to buy into a pro sports franchise, but denying that he's got an impact because not Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson or Arte Moreno — or Usher, Will Smith, David Robinson, Gloria Estefan and Marc Anthony — would seem like giving him short shrift. More diversity in ownership is better, right? It might not quite be the "total ownership" that Ralph Wiley was talking about, but as L.Z. Granderson wrote, merely getting into the executive circle and being visible from inside out does represent a step in the progression toward greater representation.
If the role Jay-Z now inhabits suggests to any kid that he or she can, as Kasich put it, "be what you want to be," including someone who's got a stake in a nine-figure operation — and again, while people joke that Jay owns one-fifteenth of 1 percent more of the Nets than you or I do, that's still kind of a lot more than you or I do — that's valuable. It's kind of weird that Kasich said it, and probably weird how he said it, but it's not wrong that he said it.
In conclusion, we'd like to congratulate Governor Kasich on becoming the latest sitting governor to publicly commend Jay-Z. He follows in the footsteps of former New York Gov. David Paterson, who issued a statement congratulating Jay for being named MTV.com's "Hottest MC in the Game" back in 2009.
Hat-tip to Dispatch Politics.