Money talks louder than social activism

Toyloy Brown III, Opinion Editor

On Aug. 13, the National Football League announced that it will be partnering with music mogul Jay-Z and his entertainment company Roc Nation with the hopes of enhancing the NFL’s live game experiences and amplifying their social justice efforts.

More specifically, this multiyear partnership will involve Roc Nation in the selection process of musical artists for performances like the Super Bowl halftime show. Additionally, Jay-Z will help the league “nurture and strengthen community through football and music, including through the NFL’s Inspire Change initiative” as per

The news was fully made public when Jay-Z and the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell held a joint media session at Roc Nation headquarters in New York the following day. Coincidentally, that day was the 3 year anniversary of the very first time quarterback Colin Kaepernick protested systemic oppression by kneeling during an NFL game.

Since the announcement of this partnership, many people have been critical of Jay-Z’s decision to work with the NFL when only a year ago on the song “APES—” he rapped the lyrics “I said no to the Super Bowl: you need me, I don’t need you. Every night we in the end zone, tell the NFL we in stadiums too.” He also publicly supported Kaepernick and wore Kapernick’s jersey during a Saturday Night Live performance in 2017, an action in direct opposition of the league. And it was only last Super Bowl when it became public knowledge that Jay-Z advised rapper Travis Scott not to perform in the halftime show. All thought it was advice for Scott to join many other black artists in solidarity for Kaepernick who remains unemployed from the NFL.

In his recent presser, Jay-Z defended himself saying that his reasons had nothing to do with Kaepernick. Instead, he did not want Scott to be “second fiddle” to music group Maroon 5. Lastly, two days after the presser, TMZ Sports reported that Jay-Z will have a “significant ownership interest” in an NFL team. This tidbit make some speculate this as a reason why he is unexpectedly assisting the league.

Not only has this agreement between Jay-Z and the NFL been quite newsworthy but the reaction from public figures has been equally interesting. Some celebrities from the hip-hop community have been vocal in their support of Jay-Z. In an Instagram story, rapper Freddie Gibbs posted a video saying “I’m riding with Jay-Z. Straight up. F— Colin Kaepernick.” He continued by voicing his displeasure with Kaepernick settling his collusion grievance with the NFL, not disclosing how much money he made from the settlement (although each party agreed to confidentiality) and finally the people who are “hating” on Jay-Z.

Rap producer DJ Khaled told TMZ Sports, “Shout out Jay-Z and everything he’s doing.” He continued on by saying “always uplifting the people and always moving the culture forward.” TMZ Sports also asked Cardi B if she likes what Jay-Z is doing. She replied, “I feel like he went in there like, ‘Alright, if you guys want me to work with y’all, y’all need to bring my peoples in there. Y’all need to do things my way.’ And I feel like he’s gonna change it.” Later, she added that she believes that he can bring Kaepernick back into the NFL.

On the other side of the spectrum, some public figures have subtly displayed their disapproval of this partnership. Successful singer and businesswoman Rihanna liked an instagram post from writer and social activist Shaun King who detailed why he believes Jay-Z is wrong for partnering with the NFL. Filmmaker Ava Duvernay tweeted on Aug. 14 a picture of Kaepernick and the hashtag #ImStillWithKap. Former NAACP President Dr. Cornell W. Brooks (@CornellWBrooks) tweeted, “Exactly how much are Black lives and dignity worth? More than a greasy #NFL game ticket or a slimy payoff. #ImStillWithKap #BlackLivesMatter.”

It is safe to say that this news topic has created a division among people who may have originally been united in their animosity for the NFL. An animosity fueled by teams’ refusal to sign Kaepernick and allow less talented quarterbacks to get chance after chance.

Now, it seems that some are giving the NFL a blank slate when it comes to social justice because they truly believe the league cares about issues that disproportionately affect black and brown people in this country. The NFL trusts Jay-Z will do well due to his credible history for philanthropic work, being a voice for black and disenfranchised communities and for the fact that he simply is Jay-Z: a legend who is the epitome of what some think it means to be black and successful in almost all avenues.

However, the people with condemnation for the agreement Jay-Z made with the NFL are questioning the genuineness the league and the music mogul have for advocating for activism yet still keep Kaepernick unemployed.

That is where I stand on the matter.

Kaepernick, a quarterback who once led the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance in 2013, is universally recognized as a player who should be at the very least a team’s backup. The only conceivable reason Kap would remain unemployed would be because the team owners and commissioner privately agreed to banish him after his public protest brought a negative limelight to the NFL. A limelight that illuminated how the NFL would react once a player used his platform to not only play football but also bring attention to human issues. The league did not want the quarterback to make some NFL fans uncomfortable and potentially harm their bottom line by adversely impacting viewership. The league chose to save every dollar imaginable as well as to have a reputation of unjustly blacklisting an outspoken black player.

The NFL and the NFL Players Coalition, a group of players who want to work for social justice since the 2016 protests from Kaepernick, created the Inspire Change initiative to do as the name suggests and to quell ideas that the NFL doesn’t care about social reform. This device did not simmer the discontent among people who want Kaepernick to have a job prior to Jay-Z being brought along. The initiative should presumably ascend in prominence because of Jay-Z’s name and it should also deter people from being critical of the league for not truly caring about social justice. A widespread belief is that the NFL is more concerned about positive PR than they are about the actual issues they hope to resolve. This argument has appeared in issues related to concussions and domestic violence. However, this move to bring Jay-Z into the fold actually proves that the NFL is primarily seeking positive responses from the very people that were initially unsatisfied with their handling of Kaepernick. Why you might ask. It benefits their bottom line.

Just like any business, the closer your image is to perfect the more likely people will decide to spend on your product. The NFL has known they had to improve their public image ever since it had been severely damaged by Kaepernick’s protests and absence from the league. Jay-Z’s presence is powerful enough for a plethora of individuals to cosign any decision he makes or venture he joins. This is cited by the aforementioned examples, Gibbs and Khaled. Even people who dislike the NFL and only respect Jay-Z may be left more optimistic just because Jay-Z possess a reputation of caring for the black community and getting things done with his people. The exact situation for Cardi B.

These popular figures are only small examples of how Jay-Z improves the NFL’s image. The average viewers who were originally unsatisfied will hopefully ditch the “I’m with Kap” mantra and go back to spending more on the NFL’s product. It is quite clear that the NFL is using Jay-Z to significantly better their reputation regarding activism. Additionally, Jay-Z will assist the league greatly with their Super Bowl halftime performance for years to come. Last season it was no secret the NFL struggled to find performers. The cliché killing two birds with one stone perfectly is applicable here.

Although Jay-Z is being used by the NFL, there is obviously something in it for him since he’s not doing this for free. What would make a man who on multiple occasions challenged the league and supported Kaepernick without warning say in his recent press conference, “I think we’re past kneeling. I think it’s time to go into actionable items.”? That answer is money and potentially more money than we may realize.

If Jay-Z is known for anything after being an outstanding lyricist, it is his ambition to make as much money as he humanly can. He has multiple companies, brands, and partnerships that have grown his fortune to roughly $1 billion, A feat few African-Americans have accomplished. Let alone that he is a Hip-Hop icon who still releases music and is married to Beyonce, a powerful artist in her own right. His entrepreneurial mindset is legendary and a notable part of his makeup. It is reasonable to believe he was paid an extravagant amount of money to join the NFL. An amount that will most likely not be disclosed any time soon.

Even so, is this enough of a reason for Jay-Z to backtrack off his original stance of the NFL needing him more than he needs them? Currently, it looks that way. The money alongside the good works he will assumably achieve with the Inspire Change initiative may be enough for him to agree to a deal. Realistically, we don’t exactly know what he and the NFL are going to do. It might be something that is subpar or it could be one of the preeminent forms of humanitarianism seen from a sports league. The range is wide but there is currently no reason to think the latter will happen.

One curveball that could be the key to why this agreement occurred in the first place is the possibility that the NFL under the table has promised to offer Jay-Z a stake in a team’s ownership. For now, this is a rumor that was reported early by TMZ. But it’s not too hard to believe since he did have a stake in the Brooklyn Nets ownership until he sold it so he can represent NBA players with his sports agency. Currently, Jay-Z’s agency represents NFL players so that would be a major reason why he may not become an NFL owner in the near future. Simply put, if Jay-Z was involved in owning a sports team once, he can do it again.

On the surface, the NFL needs him more than he needs them. But below the surface, an ownership stake in a team is a bargaining chip the NFL has and a possible long-term play for Jay-Z to accumulate additional millions. It also falls in line with Jay-Z’s pattern of capitalizing on unique financial opportunities and his entrepreneurial genius. It is worth noting that this is all speculation combined with facts and Jay-Z’s pattern of behavior on similar matters.

America practices capitalism and is built for the capitalist to prosper. There’s nothing obviously wrong for wanting to build wealth for yourself if it is the sole mechanism of how people survive and support their families. However, figures like Jay-Z should at least be examined for literally choosing a check instead of maintaining moral standards he iterated for the past few years. If anyone flips entirely on a stance and the undeniable correlation is money over standard principles, that should not be cosigned. Especially if that someone does not need a check let alone already being a billionaire.

A scenario like this is why North Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid, Kaepernick’s close friend who continues to protest, is asked in the locker room if Jay-Z is a sellout. “It’s approaching that. If Jay-Z is going to be an owner, is Colin going to be signed the day he becomes an owner of a team,” Reid continued on by saying. “I think he has a very small window with an ownership position to make a move to get Colin on the field.”

Besides the TMZ report, there is no reason to know that Jay-Z will become an owner that will have enough power to influence any team he is with to sign a polarizing figure like Kaepernick who has been away from the game for three years already. If that is the play Jay-Z eventually achieves, then the possibility of him selling out is probably totally out of the question.

The next point that is crucial to understand is that there is still a lot we don’t know until it actually happens. The old adage actions speak louder than words is very real in this matter. Jay-Z’s actions should be weighed more heavily than his words.

Our society tends to be too reactionary in moments that trigger a wide disagreement. It is common for people to draw a final conclusion before most know what is actually going on. Sometimes the full story is not necessary and other times it is. This partnership between Jay-Z and the NFL is one of those times where more of the story is worth waiting on. Especially if the majority of people who think of Jay-Z as a sellout before he does anything by and large are the same demographic he aims to help. Open-mindedness and discretion is critical when it comes to polarizing topics with a limited amount of information.

It is very understandable to think that it is nearly impossible for Jay-Z to nail it on the social justice front, become the first black owner of an NFL team and then sign one of the most polarizing athletes in recent history. However, Jay-Z is a man who unfathomably came from the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, New York to become a $1 billion mogul. Those odds are arguably just as low as the possible plan to get Kaepernick in the NFL. He has achieved the almost unachievable once, maybe he can do it again.

With that being said, I don’t think this scenario will ever come into existence. But right now no one 100% knows what Jay-Z is capable of. If we’re hellbent on Jay-Z being a sellout and he does something astronomical, then many of us could be embarrassed for jumping to conclusions.

For all we know Jay-Z may have an agenda that no one has thought about and a strategy that cannot be revealed so soon after the partnership was made public. On the idea of calling Jay-Z a sellout, he deserves a little benefit of the doubt for the time being. Once all the dust clears, that will be the time for people to make a final determination on if what Jay-Z did was fraudulent.

Having said that as well, at this moment I do not like what Jay-Z is doing overall. It would be more preferable if he gave an ultimatum to the NFL stating that he will only do business with them if one of the thirty-two NFL teams sign Kaepernick and if the commissioner apologizes to him for being banished for three years. Players who are repeat offenders of things that actually break laws have had lesser punishments. However, that is not the answer that will completely forgive them of all wrongdoing. But it is a first step in the right direction. Allow the person who popularized modern-day sports activism back in the league.

Presently, Jay-Z is going along with the NFL in denying Kaepernick a job. It also seems he is agreeing that Kaepernick’s sacrifice is something to be ignored and forgotten even though it so closely ties into what all parties are apparently interested in achieving: social justice reform. Jay-Z must know how that is problematic. Particularly, if this statement is all for the NFL’s dollar.

At this point, one can make a compelling argument that Jay-Z relates more to NFL owners than he does with NFL players in a league that is roughly 70% black according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.

Jay-Z has done great things for himself and others throughout his career. In his presser, he did display concern for social issues. He believes that now is the time to enact action after the attention Kaepernick brought to systemic issues.

That is correct. However, context matters.

To do good works with a league, who is a business above all else, that to this day continues to blackball a player for bringing attention to the very same thing the NFL now wants to prioritize with Jay-Z as the face is an inherent contradiction and a disgrace.

If Jay-Z doesn’t see that blatant hypocrisy he and the league are engaging in, then money must be talking louder than the numerous voices that proudly say “I’m still with Kap.”