By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
Years ago, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter famously stepped up the stakes within his typical lyrics about making power moves by stating that he wasn’t just a businessman, but “a business, man.”
On “The Carters,” his most recent album from last summer, a collaboration with his wife Beyoncé, Jay-Z said featured more bars that quickly gained notoriety — “I said no to the Super Bowl. You [the NFL] need me, I don’t need you” — as said on the project’s lead single, “Apesh*t.”
To continue the upside-down nature of 2019, this week Jay-Z and his entertainment group Roc Nation signed a multi-year partnership deal with the NFL to lead the league’s Super Bowl entertainment efforts as well as amplify the league’s burgeoning social justice initiatives.
I applaud the NFL and Jay-Z for their respective efforts to create change, but true change can never be created by either interest until Colin Kaepernick is either at the table they share or at its head, an opportunity that Jay-Z still could make happen, which would go a long way in easing the discomfort many have with his new allegiance to commissioner Roger Goodell and company.
As an entertainment-based move, the NFL got it right when it comes to working with Jay-Z. A fan favorite with as wide a fan base as any artist today, Jay brings a natural big-moment notoriety with anything he does. Like he said on “Apesh*t” he sells out football stadiums himself ( really and mostly with partners like his wife or Justin Timberlike, though). He is also a staple figure for the African-American community as an entrepreneur, businessman and social justice activist, which is a meaningful association for a league that whether it intended to or not, but itself at odds with the fight for black freedom given its dealings with Kaepernick.
Back to Jay — he played a huge roll in Meek Mill out of prison, and is working with Meek Mill and Patriots owner Robert Kraft form a criminal justice/prison reform organization called Reform Alliance. Also, he became part of a group that pledged $50 million to free prisoners arrested for misdemeanor or unjust crimes out. Much of Jay’s recent moves as a public figure have given him an element of credibility that the NFL completely lacks in regards to social justice issues and the advocating of public reform.
Still, that credibility that Jay holds doesn’t match the resonance of what Kaepernick did three years ago.
Kaepernick deserves a seat at the NFL’s social justice table not only because of the bravery he displayed in being a sports activist in the prime of his career, but also because of his community work. When he was unemployed, he vouched to put a million dollars into various non-profit organizations while also investing in his current non-profit organization called Know Your Rights.
His silent protests to shed light on the inequalities and unfortunate realities that Black and Brown communities experience daily became the misguided headline within the league, and it ultimately cost him his job and created an emotional divide not just within the league, but the entire country.
President Donald Trump went public with vitriol as he so effectively does, this time directed at Kaepernick, who he called “an S.O.B” and stated that he should never play football again. Again, cause 2019 is a trip, Trump has more recently said Kaepernick should play, “only if he’s good enough,” a conceit that would have been hard to imagine this president admitting back in 2017.
Back in that season, Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones took the Trump approach and made it very clear to his team that if any of them chose to kneel in protest, they will be kicked off the ‘Boys. And though Kaepernick then and now still has a huge effect on the league, due to other players such as his former teammate and current Carolina Panther Eric Reid continuing to show support for him support in protest and refuse to let anyone forget the injustice surrounding his unemployment.
Kaepernick provides a the true definition of what social justice is really about, and his situation exhibits a truism about the sacrifices our society impose on those who only seek for things to be better than they are now. It is imperative for the NFL to finally resolve the unfortunate dilemma it cause itself, that is if it really cares about what most of its audience thinks about fairness and equality.
Signing Jay-Z is a huge boost for the league’s PR and its attention to what makes for quality entertainment in 2019, but no matter what change they bring within the league’s programming, Kaepernick has to be at the forefront of its more substantive efforts in community outreach, and Jay-Z, as an expressed supporter of Kaepernick, is obligated to make sure that possibility becomes a reality.
If Kaepernick is not employed in some capacity by the league or able to be a face of the social justice team on par with Jay-Z, then the NFL will never be able to create the change the league needs to see and that will satisfy the narrative the league wants to create.
Joshua M. Hicks is a Senior Writer for WARR Media