This August marks the three-year anniversary since football player Colin Kaepernick decided to take a seat, and then a knee, to protest the alarming amount of police brutality in the United States. Since January 2017, Kaepernick has yet to play another game of professional football.
Nearly three years of unemployment. Of shouldering a cause that continues to remain at the forefront of U.S. society. Of receiving support from all walks of life, from people who stood, sometimes knelt, with Kaepernick in solidarity and in protest. Supporters who were protesting police brutality, but also protesting the fact that someone had seemingly lost his job for exercising his right to protest.
Kaepernick’s support came from celebrities and athletes alike, from basketball superstar LeBron James to rapper and hip-hop mogul Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter. Recently, Jay-Z and associates made a surprising announcement “to partner with the NFL to advise the league on artists for major events like the Super Bowl,” as reported by NPR’s Michel Martin on Barbershop. The deal was described as a multi-year partnership with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation company. TMZ subsequently reported that Jay-Z was also in line to become part-owner of a NFL team, though few details were revealed on that.
It was a surprising move. Not that long ago, Jay rapped: “I said no to the Super Bowl, you need me, I don’t need you.”
It was a surprising move. Not that long ago, on the hugely successful banger “Apeshit” from Everything is Love (The Carters), Jay rapped: “I said no to the Super Bowl, you need me, I don’t need you.” This lyric was in reference to him turning down a recent request from the National Football League to perform at halftime during Super Bowl. Fast forward to recent times, Jay-Z has now crept into bed with the same woman (the NFL) he previously dissed.
The partnership with the NFL seems to be one fraught with intrigue and not without controversy. Former teammate of Kaepernick and current free safety with the Carolina Panthers, Eric Reid wasn’t thrilled by this new union and made his point extremely clear:
“Jay-Z claimed to be a supporter of Colin – you know, wore his jersey, told people not to perform at the Super Bowl because of the treatment that the NFL did to Colin. And now he’s going to be a part owner. It’s kind of despicable.”
A wise Jamaican proverb comes immediately to mind, “sometime you have to play fool to catch wise.” Meaning that sometimes in order to catch a thief, you have to act like one. Perhaps, this is what Jay-Z is trying to do. You see, for so long Black people have demanded a seat at the old boys’ table in order to be a part of the decision-making processes that directly impact them.
An opportunity of such has presented itself, and Eric Reid and others are basically calling Mr. Carter a sellout because of his new allegiance. Fortunately for Reid, he sits in a position of privilege, because he is gainfully employed with the NFL, while his counterpart Kaepernick is still without work.
Jay described his deal as “the next phase” in the movement Colin Kaepernick started, a step that Kaepernick had most likely not planned for, however, when a cause becomes so huge, it often becomes bigger than any one individual.
If such a union profoundly changes the landscape of racial disparity and policing in America, it’s a cost that should be eagerly paid by all who deem the current state of affairs to be unsatisfactory.
Jay-Z has also been quoted as saying: “I think we’ve moved past kneeling. I think it’s time for action.” This indicates that he perhaps believes kneeling has served its purpose for the time, and now, it’s time for what he deems as real pragmatic change. Actionable steps to sustain actual change within the NFL and moreover the United States of America.
Jay-Z’s sights are set on his new project – Inspire Change. An initiative that showcases how the players, owners and the NFL work together to create positive change in communities across America. For all intents and purposes, this seems like an attempt from the NFL to address the issues that Kaepernick brought to the forefront three years ago. An initiative that boasts a focus on education and economic advancement, police and community relations and criminal justice reform.
This groundbreaking initiative, the likes of which have not previously been seen by the NFL, includes plans of action during immensely popular times like the Super Bowl week. The goal is that community capacity building will hopefully lead to community activation. The hope is to accomplish this through social justice events and grassroots funding.
The idea and the construct of protest is necessary to trigger change. That must then take on the form of action in some capacity. Kaepernick’s protest brought a voice of advocacy to a damning and polarizing situation in the U.S. that was tearing it apart at the seams. Awareness and education are what happens at the preliminary stages of fundamental change. Partnership and resource allocation are where the action happens, actually inspiring change. (Pun intended.)
As a society, we are often quick to call agents of change like Jay-Z sellouts, when their plight and platform don’t necessarily fall into line with our own ideas and beliefs. Perhaps it could also be that we as a society are so devoid of our desire to ignite change, we spurn others who do so with vigor and success.
Jay-Z himself is not devoid of this desire to spark change. His philanthropic actions in recent years have included bringing awareness to Kalief Browder, a young man who was incarcerated for years when he wasn’t able to make bail, including excessive time in solitary confinement, and then eventually released on a lack of evidence. He later died by suicide. Jay’s efforts have also focused on the plight of fellow rapper Meek Mill whose imprisonment sparked national debate about prison reform.
Mr. Carter is without a doubt an opportunist. You don’t simply go from the Marcy housing projects in Brooklyn to becoming a billionaire without constantly seeking opportunity. Perhaps he is aligning himself with the NFL to procure his own financial and professional advancement within the league itself. Or perhaps he’s just plain sick and tired of being sick and tired, and is tapping into his need to exercise the power and influence his position and platform provides.
Either way, if such a union profoundly changes the landscape of racial disparity and policing in America, it’s a cost that should be eagerly paid by all who deem the current state of affairs to be unsatisfactory.
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