Jay-Z’s partnership with the NFL isn’t the answer he thinks it is

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This whole Jay-Z and National Football League partnership is only getting weirder and more disappointing. As explained at The Root, Jay-Z is expected to end up with a “significant ownership interest” in an as-of-yet unnamed NFL team, which would make him the first Black owner in the league’s lengthy history. The prospective NFL owner is sticking with the idea that he’ll be some kind of agent of change between his partnership with the league that has his Roc Nation business consult on entertainment while contributing to NFL activism* and this ownership of a team. Shaking things up is not how anyone has ever been accepted into the (white) boys’ club that is sports team ownership, but don’t let that dull your enthusiasm!


Jay-Z was a proponent of Colin Kaepernick and his protests against police brutality, protests that ended up getting Kaepernick ousted from the NFL: if you don’t believe that the former quarterback was blacklisted by the league, look no further than the fact that the NFL paid him and another former player, Eric Reid, a settlement to make the collusion case disappear. Leagues aren’t in the habit of paying settlements for crimes they’re innocent of committing, but sometimes it pays to make things just go away with cash without ever outright saying you’re guilty. The past-tense following Jay-Z’s name in this graf’s first sentence was intentional, by the way, as the mogul joining forces with the NFL pits him against the player they still won’t allow to play in their league. Once he does own a team, do you think Jay-Z will sign Kaepernick to be its quarterback? Or will he already be committed to keeping his seat at the extremely white table that has kept Kaepernick away?

Jay-Z has already defended himself by missing the entire point via wishy-washy language, so you can probably guess where he lands on those questions:

“No, I don’t want people to stop protesting at all. Kneeling — I know we’re stuck on it because it’s a real thing — but kneeling is a form of protest. I support protest across the board. We need to bring light to the issue. I think everyone knows what the issue is — we’re done with that,” he added. “We all know the issue now. OK, next. What are we moving (on to) next? …And I’m not minimizing that part of it because that has to happen, that’s a necessary part of the process. But now that we all know what’s going on, what are we going to do? How are we going to stop it? Because the kneeling was not about a job, it was about injustice.

For one, many people still don’t know what Kaepernick’s protests were even about: they think he was protesting the national anthem itself by kneeling. And while the anthem sucks (it was written by a pro-slavery composer, very much tells on itself in that regard in its second verse, and doesn’t even slap), the pre-game singing of it was simply the venue for Kaepernick’s protest of police brutality. That intent was warped by fans, the media, and the right until far too many had no idea what the original protest was even against, instead believing Kaepernick was protesting the troops, or America itself, or any number of things that would also have been justifiably protested. It was just police brutality, though, following the (even more pronounced) rash of murders of Black people by police across America.

Jay-Z assuming everyone knows what the protests were about while talking about his love of protests in the same way your boss talks about unions after you tell him you’re unionizing — “I support unions, just not this union” — is extremely telling. And if that wasn’t enough to be suspicious of him for, there’s also the whole becoming an owner of an NFL team where he’ll get to be The Black Friend of every other owner, and profit immensely from this role. As The Root put it, “the old, change the system from within, while of course profiting, which rarely works out because, by the time you look up, you’re Robert Johnson.” Or, as Jemele Hill wrote:

Now that the NFL has Jay-Z’s blessing, it’s conceivable that some of those entertainers who distanced themselves from the NFL might change their mind. Jay-Z has given the NFL exactly what it wanted: guilt-free access to black audiences, culture, entertainers, and influencers.

By leaving Kaepernick completely out of the mix, Jay-Z is now complicit in helping the NFL execute its strategy. Now he is an accomplice in the league’s hypocrisy.

Jay-Z is going to profit from those events, those entertainers, those influences, and so on, because of both the business partnership and as an owner. This nullifies the impact of his previous dismissal of the NFL for the Super Bowl halftime show, or by saying he was a supporter of Kaepernick’s, because the second someone offered him a large enough check, he was willing to turn his back on it all while pretending he isn’t. Now it just looks like Jay-Z was attempting to promote himself in the past as an ally, until switching sides became even more profitable.

As City Lab points out, this is far from the first time that Black Capitalism has attempted to fix the world for Black people. The thing is, capitalism is still capitalism, regardless of who is doing it, and capitalism is inherently exploitative and violent. Jay-Z’s wealth accumulation is straight out of a misguided plan from the civil rights era, and it’s just about effective now as it was then. Jay-Z getting rich hasn’t changed America for all Black people: it’s just changed the world for Jay-Z. And he’s about to get even richer while his capitalistic ass exploits NFL players, Black or otherwise, in an owner’s seat.

MLB’s Adam Jones once said that baseball is a “white man’s game,” and that’s why you wouldn’t catch him protesting the same way Kaepernick did. He’d be forgotten about far too quickly to make it stick, and the league memory holing him would just make it even less likely for players from marginalized communities to speak up in the future. Think about how Manny Machado didn’t speak on some of the game’s structural racism until he had signed a $300 million contract: until he was secure long-term, and the league couldn’t just make him vanish like the NFL has Kaepernick, he kept quiet.

While the NFL has far more Black players than MLB, both in number and percentage, and therefore a much larger base to protest against the league in solidarity, it’s still owned primarily by white men, and heavily caters to a white fan base. It is also a white man’s game, and will continue to be even when Jay-Z is one of the owners. If anything, Jay-Z’s arrival is going to make that more obvious, as his presence will handily excuse the behavior of the rest of the NFL’s owners while they continue to exploit Black bodies for profits, write rules against protests on the field, and push the likes of Kaepernick and Reid as far behind them as possible. Maybe that’s not how Jay-Z sees this going, and he does actually think he can affect change in the league. That’s not how any of this is going to go down, though, as neither common sense nor history is on his side.

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