The NFL was probably hoping it had solved its Colin Kaepernick problem. The sporting behemoth announced this week it was entering a partnership with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. The rapper and his company will be the league’s live music entertainment strategists, working together on “culture- and cause-focused initiatives” according to a release, and also advising on musical performers at the Super Bowl.
This year, the NFL reportedly had trouble finding performers, with some high-profile musicians saying they couldn’t work with a league that mistreated Kaepernick so badly. Among them was Jay-Z, who said in a song: “Once I said no to the Super Bowl: You need me, I don’t need you.”
News of his partnership with the league comes almost three years to the day since Kaepernick began his protest, kneeling during the pre-game anthem in protest of police brutality, and just as he released a stirring video reminding us that the problem is far from settled.
The NFL must have thought that enlisting Jay-Z, a megastar and a longtime Kaepernick ally, would have assuaged much of the bad will some fans have nurturedsince the former quarterback was seemingly blacklisted.
But so far the reception has not been positive. At a press conference earlier this week Jay-Z and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell were immediately put on the defensive. Jay-Z attempted to justify his about-face by saying it was time to move beyond kneeling and one man being out of a job and figure out what “action” to take.
Among those critical of the pairing up was Eric Reid, Kaepernick’s former teammate and fellow protester.
These aren’t mutually exclusive. They can both happen at the same time! It looks like your goal was to make millions and millions of dollars by assisting the NFL in burying Colin’s career. https://t.co/LFBZpbj2tw
— Eric Reid (@E_Reid35) August 15, 2019
Speaking on her show on the Hot 97 radio station, Nessa, Kaepernick’s girlfriend, said: “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.” In an Instagram post, she said: “It’s typical for the NFL to buy different PR looks to cover up their dirt – that’s nothing new. But what is disgusting and disappointing is Jay-Z let them use him.”
The media at large has been similarly skeptical, with some brutal headlines greeting news of the partnership. “Jay-Z sells out Kaepernick, grabs big money from NFL” wrote the Associated Press. “NFL and Jay-Z Can’t Buy Social Justice Credibility Without Colin Kaepernick” said Bleacher Report. “Jay-Z sold fire in Hell, and sold Colin Kaepernick out” said the Daily News.
“I don’t believe Jay-Z is a sellout,” Jemele Hill wrote in the Atlantic, “because his track record proves otherwise. But it does seem like he’s being used as cover. Or, at best, a buffer.
“By leaving Kaepernick completely out of the mix, Jay-Z is now complicit in helping the NFL execute its strategy. Now he is an accomplice in the league’s hypocrisy.”
Many of the critics have pointed to Jay-Z’s admirable devotion to the issues of criminal justice throughout his career, most of which overlaps with Kaepernick’s, but it’s that which makes his most recent venture all the more disappointing.
“Now that he’s at the table, Jay-Z can represent a new voice and perhaps influence the NFL’s decisions and conversations,” Nana Efua Mumford wrote in the Washington Post.
“Instead of talking about how to address social inequalities and police brutality, we’re now discussing our dream Super Bowl halftime show. Rather than addressing the pain of so many mothers across the country, we’re trying to understand the business decisions of billionaires.”
As a Deadspin piece by Billy Haisley that calls the entire situation “deeply lame” points out, Kaepernick himself has already made such a deal with the devil by partnering with Nike.
There is no ethical dissent under capitalism, Haisley writes. “It’s yet more proof of the omnipresence of capitalist realism that, when going out to protest and subvert the system, ostensibly good actors like Jay-Z and Kaepernick can see no alternative other than to align with the very system they claim to want to change.”