OK, Jay-Z. Show us what you got.
It was announced Wednesday that the billionaire business executive and musician is climbing into bed with the NFL, the league he once castigated for being indifferent toward injustice and turning its back on Super Bowl quarterback and prominent social activist Colin Kaepernick.
Jay-Z and his sports/entertainment company, Roc Nation, became the league’s official Live Music Entertainment Strategists. That’s two corporations doing business for mutual benefit.
There is another component, though, as Jay also is to be involved in Inspire Change, the NFL’s tepid response to a movement inspired by Kaepernick. It is conceptually designed to promote causes directly related to justice and equality.
This is where the decision by Jay-Z comes into question. It would be reckless to assume Jay has been bought. But no matter his business savvy, which by all accounts is prodigious, that possibility can’t be dismissed. Is this strictly about money? Or is Jay of the belief that the conservatives running the NFL suddenly will become progressives because of his presence?
“With its global reach, the National Football League has the platform and opportunity to inspire change across the country,” Jay-Z said in a press release. “Roc Nation has shown that entertainment and enacting change are not mutually exclusive ideas – instead, we unify them. This partnership is an opportunity to strengthen the fabric of communities across America.”
Because profitable old habits die hard, there is good reason for skepticism. Jay isn’t exactly going to the White House to share grins and hugs with President Donald Trump, but he is buddying up with rich folks who have stood beside such avowed racists as David Duke in support of Trump.
Eric Reid, the Carolina Panthers safety who remains a vocal critic of the NFL and also a staunch supporter of Kaepernick, responded with multiple tweets expressing his distrust.
“Interesting timing on the partnership with Jay-Z on the heels of (Miami Dolphins owner) Stephen Ross’ fundraiser for Donald Trump and the backlash his other companies are getting because of it. #PayAttentionFolks,” was one such tweet.
Is this the same Jay-Z that over the past couple years shoved fat kernels of truth up the noses of NFL hierarchy, telling the league it needs him more than he needs it? And that it should look elsewhere for its Super Bowl Sunday entertainment? He was not for sale. Or rent.
Jay went on Saturday Night Live two years ago and wore a jersey in support of Kaepernick.
That was all before April, when New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft brokered a meeting between NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Jay-Z. And long before Jay, knowing any such union would result in widespread splintering from his global fan base, felt comfortable putting his credibility at stake.
Jay-Z has spent most of the last 23 years using his music as a vehicle to shed light on various social ills. He evolved from peddling drugs as a young man to becoming a successful rapper to becoming the biggest name in the game – and perhaps the most influential shadow preacher ever to roam the planet.
He’s now gambling that the league that has always done as it pleased, swimming in revenue while routinely squelching the voice of its labor force, is desperate enough to listen and respond to grievances that have existed for decades. That the almighty NFL will take his advice.
“Roc Nation is one of the most globally influential and impactful organizations in entertainment,” Goodell said in the release. “The NFL and Roc Nation share a vision of inspiring meaningful social change across our country. We are thrilled to partner with Roc Nation and look forward to making a difference in our communities together.”
The first measurement of success in this endeavor has to be linked to Kaepernick, who has been locked out of the NFL for almost three years. He last played in 2016, for the 49ers. Since opting for free agency in March 2017, Kaepernick has continued to work out, keeping himself ready for a call that has yet to come.
And, please, spare us the slander about his ability. Kaepernick was among the NFL’s top 15 starters, with run/pass skills that break defenses. At age 31, he is 11 years younger than Tom Brady, almost nine years younger than Drew Brees and in the same age group as Ryan Tannehill and Case Keenum, neither of whom has electrified a team as Kaepernick did the 49ers.
Jay-Z apparently will be aligned with the league-approved player’s coalition, a group that long ago split from Kaepernick – as well as Miami receiver Kenny Stills and Reid – over philosophical differences. In short, the trio was unwilling to accept compromises made by the coalition.
Jay has been shown for years that he is a business-first dude. As his financial portfolio expanded, he became less of an entertainer and more of a venture capitalist. In spitting out an album every year from 1996 through 2003, he became a millionaire. In the years since then, as he approached billionaire status, Jay released a total of five solo albums. With multigenerational wealth, his timeline is not subject to the desires of art or his fans. He sets his own.
“If we can’t get this done in, like, five years,” Jay told the New York Times, “then we need to sit down and evaluate where we are.”
The clock is running on Jay. Only a few hours in, he is behind schedule.