When news broke Tuesday that hip-hop mogul and self-professed Colin Kaepernick supporter Jay-Z was cutting a partnership with the NFL to manage aspects of league entertainment and social justice ventures, two questions sprouted almost instantly.
Was this a bridge to a Kaepernick signing in the NFL? And was he connected to this venture?
The answers: No and no.
As Kaepernick confidant and Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid tweeted on Tuesday night, Kaepernick is not involved. And that’s likely to create hard questions for Jay-Z, given his previous stance of supporting Kaepernick and declining to perform during the Super Bowl, which he even highlighted in song lyrics at one point: “I said no to the Super Bowl/You need me/I don’t need you.”
Apparently something has changed in that equation. Precisely what that is remains to be seen, just like most of the particulars of the vague “Inspire Change” multi-platform deal Jay-Z is signing with the NFL. But interestingly, some of Jay-Z’s first comments about Kaepernick and this new partnership with the NFL seemed to mimic the league’s “Protest to Progress” initiative by the NFL, which worked privately to minimize Kaepernick as a figurehead in the players protest movement in 2017 and 2018, while also influencing players to stop kneeling during the anthem in favor of engaging in social initiatives off the field.
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Unquestionably, the “moving the protests off the field” effort was a significant part of the NFL’s aim in 2017 and 2018. And Jay-Z almost appeared to be reading from that league playbook when speaking about Kaepernick in the broader social justice movement by NFL players.
“[Kaepernick] absolutely brought this conversation alive,” Jay-Z told the Wall Street Journal. “We like to think that the way we build the Inspire Change platform, that if anything close to that would happen in the future, then Kaepernick would have a platform where he can express himself and maybe it doesn’t have to take place on the field.”
The implication is it creates a platform that takes protests off the field and directs them toward another space. Similar to some of the league’s “Protest to Progress” goals.
While the granular details of the partnership between Jay-Z and the NFL have yet to be revealed, the move toward him appears to be another step in the league’s push to highlight the positive public-relations avenues it has sought for nearly two years, essentially since the start of the wave of protests. Remarkably, Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula – who was prominently involved in private meetings between team owners and players in October 2017 – almost seemed to spell this out when talking to other owners and players.
An audio tape of one of those private meetings was turned over to The New York Times, which produced this passage from a story by the newspaper several months later.
Pegula offered that he thought the league was battling a perception and “media problem.” He said it would be great for the league to find a compelling spokesman — preferably a player — to promote all of the good things they were doing together. He suggested that the league could learn from the gun lobby in this regard.
“For years we’ve watched the National Rifle Association use Charlton Heston as a figurehead,” Pegula said. “We need a spokesman.”
While Jay-Z isn’t a football player and this deal doesn’t appear to be limited to that of a spokesperson, it might actually be even better for the NFL, which not only scores a “social justice brand ambassador,” but also complicates the tenor of Jay-Z’s previous support for Kaepernick. Both could be argued as significant wins for the league. And it comes on the heels of Kaepernick dropping a recent workout video stating that he’s “still ready” and still being “denied work” by the NFL. A video that prompted a moment where President Donald Trump was once against asked (and once again entertained) questions about Kaepernick’s NFL employment prospects.
That has been currently lost in the wake of a Jay-Z deal that the league appears happy to highlight. And not only from the standpoint of social justice work, either. It appears there are at least some designs on potentially getting a Jay-Z Super Bowl performance on track.
“[Jay-Z] was very quick to say that he does not want this to be about him performing, that it was broader than that,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told the Washington Post regarding the league’s partnership with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation sports agency. “It quickly went beyond that. Do I hope he’ll perform in the Super Bowl sometime in the next several years? Yes. But I think we’ll all know if that time comes. He’ll know in particular.”
More details are bound to follow on this partnership. And more questions, too. None more pressing than the one that asks Jay-Z about how he went from supporting Colin Kaepernick to cutting deals with the league that has been accused of locking him out.
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