The Panthers safety, speaking in front of his locker after a preseason loss to the Bills, had been trying to make sense of the mogul’s new endeavor since news of his partnership with the league broke early in the week.
The latest news could go one of two ways, and in that moment Reid was grappling with both. On one hand, it could be “despicable” as Reid called it. On the other, this cracks perhaps the only door left for his friend Colin Kaepernick to return to football, a chance to end a two-plus year blackball and put some teeth in the NFL’s social justice plan.
“Jay-Z has bought himself time because of his history with social justice,” Reid told me as he left the locker room. “He has done amazing things for people who have been unjustly treated. [But] this is sketchy.
“If he is part owner of some team we’ll see how soon Colin is in an NFL facility. That’s the only way he rectifies this. Because if not, what are we even talking about? You are a sellout if it’s anything less than that.”
It’s a nuance that was repeated later by Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills, the only other NFL player who remains kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice and police brutality. Perhaps it’s a personal bias that forces me to highlight this point, but along with Reid’s scathing tweets and strong quotes, he also allowed for the possibility of hope during this moment of latency, as the NFL collective waits to learn which team Jay-Z is buying into and the action that could follow.
Reid is alluding to the incredible capital Jay-Z has built up in the social justice arena. As The Atlantic’s Jemele Hill notes, Jay-Z has donated millions of dollars to worldwide humanitarian efforts, has produced series on Trayvon Martin and Kalief Browder and regularly uses his platform to fight for the same causes as Kaepernick and Reid. Combine those great deeds with his stature in American pop culture—but specifically to black experience of the past quarter-century—and one wonders, if nothing changes, how this could be motivated by anything more than simple financial gain.
The sliver of hope so many are holding onto is that Jay-Z will help fix the system from the inside-out. A significant ownership stake, albeit a minority share, would instantly make him the most powerful black voice the NFL has ever had. It’s that hope that black men and women who are fans of both Jay-Z and Kaepernick, who disagree with the NFL’s treatment of the quarterback, who don’t wish to choose between the two, are grasping at. Jay-Z won’t be canceled like his Watch the Throne counterpart, but his next steps are being watched closely.
Photos of Jay-Z hamming it up with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who many see as the face of Kaepernick’s blackball, were off-putting, to put it politely. Furthermore, hearing the rapper say, “we’ve moved past kneeling” and are onto “actionable items,” as though they’re mutually exclusive—and as if Kaepernick, with his fantastic Know Your Rights camps, hasn’t done both—numbed the mind.
If this becomes the situation that Reid fears, were there signs along the way that Jay-Z, a billionaire, was capable of this? Sure, because a billionaire by definition is capable of this. It doesn’t really lessen the shock though, especially when he was performing in Kap’s jersey and telling Travis Scott to not perform at the Super Bowl. (By the way, Reid isn’t buying Jay-Z’s excuse that he advised Scott against performing so he wouldn’t be “second fiddle” to Maroon 5. “Come on, man,” Reid says, “you’re not fooling anybody.”)
The false equivalencies rained down over the weekend. Why is Reid upset at Jay-Z for joining the league when he took the league’s money in a settlement and continues to draw weekly checks? Well… the settlement money—whatever that total was—was for being treated unfairly by his employer.
But if I sued my employer, I wouldn’t keep my job! That’s right, random worker of America. But you don’t work for a company that has an essentially complete (if legal) monopoly on the marketplace. If Reid wishes to perform the job he’s best at and be paid at a rate that the next closest competitor can not approach, then he must work for the company that he sued. It is a unique employment situation that can’t be compared to that of 99.9% of American workers.
Reid says Jay-Z and the NFL, just like Malcolm Jenkins and the Players Coalition before this, have engaged in neocolonialism. “The NFL is hiding behind this black face,” says Reid, with the league giving the appearance that it cares about social justice while Kaepernick remains unemployed. Black men are fighting against one another while the public consumes it. Some of the worst things one can say about a black man are being said, or at the very least hinted at. There is an ugliness in this that’s difficult to write about. I abstain from weighing in on who’s right and who’s wrong.
But it’s impossible for the NFL to talk at all about social justice without Kaepernick. Thus, it’s impossible to talk about the league being a catalyst for change without Kaepernick being involved.
For those taking a wait-and-see approach to Jay-Z’s marriage with the NFL, Reid is also willing to be patient. But he’s highly suspicious and isn’t willing to wait long.
“If Jay-Z is going to be an owner, pffff . . . ” Reid said. “Is Colin going to be signed the day he becomes an owner of a team? We’ll see. I think he has a very small window with the ownership position to make a move to get Colin on the field with whatever team he’s going.
“A very small window.”
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