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Jay-Z’s Partnership With the NFL Is Wrong to Erase Colin Kaepernick From the Narrative
Jay-Z sounds oddly to the right of President Trump on the issue of whether or not Colin Kaepernick should be back in the NFL.
Last week, Jay-Z and the NFL announced a massive new collaboration that will fundamentally alter the future of the league going forward. Roc Nation will combine forces with the NFL while Jay-Z serves as the league’s “live music entertainment strategist.” But days before the historic merging of entertainment empires, President Donald Trump was asked if Kaepernick should get an opportunity to play in the NFL again.
“Only if he’s good enough,” Trump answered outside the White House. “If he was good enough, they’d hire him. Why wouldn’t he play if he was good enough? I think if he’s good enough, I know the owners—I know (Robert) Kraft, I know so many of the owners—if he’s good enough, they’d sign him.”
The NFL recently settled a suit brought forth by Kaepernick and Eric Reid on accusations that the league colluded to keep them both from playing after their historic protests. Selective ignorance of this aside, Trump surprisingly added, “So I’d like to see it. Frankly, I’d love to see Kaepernick come in, if he’s good enough. But I don’t want to see him come in because somebody thinks it’s a good PR move.”
Now juxtapose that with what Jay-Z said when asked how he could entertain such a business venture while Kaepernick remains out of the league despite ever so obviously having the desire to work. Whereas Trump sounds encouraging of Kaepernick’s return to the NFL (albeit there’s always a reason to question the sincerity of anything Trump says), Jay-Z sounds dismissive of the prospect by questioning its importance.
Colin Kaepernick #7 and Eric Reid #35 of the San Francisco 49ers kneel in protest during the national anthem prior to playing the Los Angeles Rams in their NFL game at Levi’s Stadium on September 12, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.
Thearon W. Henderson
“I think that we forget that Colin’s whole thing was to bring attention to social injustice so in that case this is a success—this is the next thing,” he answered at a press conference with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at Roc Nation’s New York offices last Wednesday. “There’s two parts of protest: the protest, and then there’s a company or individual saying ‘I hear you, what do we do next?’ For me it’s about actionable items, what are we gonna do about it? We get stuck on Colin not having a job, you know what I’m saying? And this is more than that.”
Nothing said in that room on that day would have happened without Kaepernick’s actions, which makes it all the more insulting.
Jay continued: “I support any protest that’s effective. I’m into action, I’m into real work—I’m not into how it looks from the outside. If protesting on the field is the most effective way, then protest on the field. But if you have a vehicle that can inspire change and speak to the masses at the same time, it’s hard to steal the narrative away.”
But if the foundation of the narrative is flawed, why bother protecting its purported sanctity?
Colin Kaepernick speaks onstage at ACLU SoCal Hosts Annual Bill of Rights Dinner at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on December 3, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California.
So, we are supposed to put our faith in the NFL to lead a social justice campaign just because the league has a new partnership with a Black businessman? Though the financial specifics of the deal have not been disclosed, some reports say Jay-Z might get ownership of an NFL team. I have heard people directly argue that critics of Jay-Z’s deal should look at the bigger picture, but not everyone judges right and wrong through the lens of hypercapitalism.
I’m not against a Black person owning a professional team, but considering the league’s treatment of Kaepernick, I’m inclined to lean into Eric Reid’s sentiment that such a move in this moment to be kind of “despicable.” I’m for Jay-Z making his money, but there is something to be said for finding different ways to make a dollar.
Trump has a long history of marginalizing—and insulting—Kaepernick and his cause. That’s why it’s concerning that someone like Trump at least sounds more sympathetic to Kaepernick’s plight than Jay-Z. Kaepernick’s intent was to stoke awareness, but he should have never been punished for it. There is indeed an attempt to muddle the narrative away on the issue of Kaepernick and the NFL—only not in the way Jay-Z posits.
When Colin Kaepernick was asked about why he decided to kneel during the National Anthem during a 49ers game in August 2016, he told NFL Media: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
At the time, Kaepernick’s protest of violence against Black people in America was quickly warped into a partisan controversy, followed by the quarterback’s prompt removal from the NFL. The treatment of Kaepernick was wrong. And the NFL’s solution to that problem remains easy: If Kaepernick is good enough to play in the NFL, he should be playing in the NFL. If Roger Goodell claims the league wants “people to come in and tell us what we can do better,” enjoy this consultation and allow me to direct you to my Cash App.
On Sunday, Kaepernick weighed in on the conversation surrounding Jay-Z’s new deal with the NFL, saying that he, Albert Wilson, Kenny Stills, and Reid, “continue to fight for the people, even in the face of death threats. They have never moved past the people and continue to put their beliefs into action. Stay strong Brothers!!!” This is an obvious reference to Jay-Z’s comment in his interview last week that “I think we’ve moved past kneeling. I think it’s time for action.”
We have not moved on. Nor have most of us elected to turn our backs on Kaepernick, the man who used his platform to make the world more aware of it.
We’re still dying. They’re still largely getting away with it. We are still being punished for simply asking to be treated humanely and equally. It’s wrong to silence us for that. It’s not right to align with those that punish folks that do.
We have not moved on. Nor have most of us elected to turn our backs on Kaepernick.
Jay-Z employs the typical verbiage from those who advocate working from within the system than outside it—and in select cases, such is a justifiable approach—but consider the optics in this instance. In January, the NFL launched Inspire Change, which purports to focus on three areas: education and economic advancement, police and community relations, and criminal justice reform. Coincidentally, Kaepernick is the person responsible for bringing the issues of oppression and social injustice to the forefront of the NFL platform. Moreover, off the field, there is Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp, which helps bring greater awareness to higher education and self empowerment through a 10-point system that takes inspiration from the Black Panther Party’s ’10 Point Plan’ manifesto.
Yet, Kaepernick remains without a job while many men accused of beating women continue to play without any real repercussions—a testament to a long known domestic violence problem within the NFL.
Jay-Z performs on SNL on September 30, 2017
Kaepernick’s kneeling spoke to an inconvenient truth for any Black man, woman, or child. And, that Kaepernick is still not on an NFL roster remains a massive injustice. I am not comforted by a Black billionaire’s role in helping the NFL try to move on without righting this wrong.
It’s worth noting that though I disapprove of Jay-Z’s approach to this NFL deal, it does not negate the rapper’s past and present contributions to social justice causes, activists, and direct support of victims of various strains of systemic oppression.
Still, Jay’s choice to collaborate with the NFL is wrong. If the NFL intends to continue blackballing Kaepernick for his advocacy, nothing they do in the name of “social justice” will be an act of contrition over his unjust treatment. In 2017, when Jay-Z wore a team-less Kaepernick jersey on SNL, he seemed to have an understanding of that. Here’s hoping in hindsight that wasn’t just a bargaining chip from a shrewd businessman.
Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times-bestselling author of I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyonce, but he still regrets not becoming a rapper and avoiding private student loans altogether.