Last week, Shawn Carter, better known as the rapper/media mogul Jay-Z, signed a deal with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to become the “live music entertainment strategist” for NFL-related events. More importantly, this deal is also supposed to cover matters of social justice, which the NFL has had issues dealing with since Colin Kaepernick first took a knee in protest of police brutality and racism in 2016.
The deal allows Jay-Z, through Roc Nation, to identify performers for NFL pre and post-game shows, and more importantly, the Super Bowl halftime concert. The social justice part of the contract will also involve Roc Nation, who will assist the NFL through the Inspire Change initiative in conjunction with the players, which includes “…Education and Economic Advancement, Improving Police-Community Relations, and Criminal Justice Reform” according to Micah Peters of The Ringer.
Jay-Z sees this as a way to push for further reform, saying “I think we moved past kneeling. I think it is time to go into actionable items. So what are we going to do? Reach millions and millions of people, or we got stuck on Colin (Kaepernick) not having a job?”
The deal, which was announced with much fanfare, also drew criticism. Eric Reid, Colin Kaepernick’s former teammate with the San Francisco 49ers and currently with the Carolina Panthers who also kneeled in support of Kaepernick, said of the deal “When has Jay-Z ever taken a knee, to come out and tell us we’re past kneeling? Yes, he’s done a lot of great work, a lot of great social justice work, but for you to get paid to go into an NFL press conference and say that we’re past kneeling? Again, asinine.”
Reid wasn’t the only vocal critic of the deal. Kenny Stills, wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins, has taken a wait and see approach to the deal. Stills is one of the few players who continue to kneel in support of efforts related to those that Kaepernick first shed light on. Jemele Hill, writer for The Atlantic, wrote in the article Jay-Z Helped the NFL Banish Colin Kaepernick that “I get that Jay-Z might see this as an opportunity for artists to connect with the NFL’s immense audience. He could also offer some incredible insight and direction to the league on the social-justice front, since he’s been actively engaged in such work for a long time. I also understand that, to become hip-hop’s first billionaire, Jay-Z didn’t always have the luxury of avoiding relationships and partnerships with people he disagreed with or disliked. But in this case, Jay-Z isn’t getting enough out of the deal to justify the sacrifice of some of his credibility,” she continued. “This alliance plays right into the NFL’s hands, because the league seems determined to banish any memory of Kaepernick with its recent social-justice efforts—even though it’s likely that Jay-Z and the NFL wouldn’t even be entering into this arrangement if Kaepernick hadn’t taken a knee in 2016.”
There has been support for the deal, in the hopes that Jay-Z can force some changes in the NFL in regards to social justice issues: rapper Cardi B., for NFL player and sports commentator Marcellus Wiley, music producer DJ Khaled, and current New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley have all vocally supported the deal in multiple media outlets.
To go along with the announced deal, TMZ Sports reported that Jay-Z was being groomed to take a minority ownership stake of an unnamed NFL team, with the intentions of becoming the sole owner. Those reports have not been substantiated by anyone involved with the NFL or Jay-Z.