If last week’s press conference with tycoon Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announcing the rapper’s new partnership with the league as their new “live music entertainment strategist” was a ballroom vogue showdown — chops would have been given across the board.
Jay-Z, who was rather boastful and condescending during the conference, made such bold declarations that would easily made me cringe if he said any of this down a runway.
On how he interpreted the protests surrounding blacklisted former NFL player Colin Kaepernick:
“We forget that Colin’s whole thing was to bring attention to social injustice. In that case, this is a success. This is the next phase. There [are] two parts of protesting. You go outside and you protest, and then the company or the individual says, ‘I hear you. What do we do next?’”
On why he decided to insert himself beyond protesting alongside Kaepernick:
“For me it’s like action, [an] actionable item, what are we gonna do with it? Everyone heard, we hear what you’re saying, and everybody knows I agree with what you’re saying [in Kaepernick’s underlying message]. So what are we gonna do? You know what I’m saying? [Help] millions and millions of people, or we get stuck on Colin not having a job.”
Another chop. This is not how any of this works.
This is what betrayal looks like. This is how someone sells out. This is how a movement gets compromised.
I don’t care how the NFL tries to spin this or how Jay-Z will attempt to turn this into something that will impact “millions of millions of people.” The only “millions of millions” being impacted are the dollars that will hit Mr. Carter’s bank account now that this “partnership” has now been made official. Many on social media have tried to tell me to “wait and see,” but the writing is on the wall and I will personally have none of it.
Kaepernick didn’t sacrifice his career for the NFL to eventually turn around and hire a billionaire to help repair the league’s racist image. What hurts the worst is that despite his troublesome past with social justice causes, I was willing to give reasonable doubt to Jay-Z until the signs were too glaring to ignore.
For starters, he is married to one of the most prominent cultural icons of all time. Being the husband of Beyoncé helped open me up to his possible evolution on his previous problematic shortcomings. Like many in hip-hop, Jay-Z had a history of rapping homophobic lyrics that stung even harder for the very Black LGBTQ people who listened in neighborhoods he also rhymed about. When the Carters won last year’s prestigious GLAAD Vanguard Award, which is bestowed upon influential LGBTQ allies, I thought a new leaf was turned.
As a Black gay man who have struggled to find a sense of belonging in both the LGBTQ community and spaces of color given my duel identities, I wanted to believe in Jay-Z’s growth and commitment to being a social justice voice. But now I am disappointed by the selfishness, and relentless ambition of his gross capitalism. It’s one thing to strive to be a music mogul that wants to create a brand across commercial properties — it’s another to profit off the back of a movement.
For those who are still scratching their heads, Kaepernick didn’t take a knee for the NFL to throw money at a cause — he did it to speak out against police brutality in America. The moment he began to face death threats and encounter trouble getting signed by the league, the movement evolved into a conversation about free speech and the racial inequity in who can practice such. Still, this was not about corporate sponsorships and multimillion dollar steaks in private boxes. Many of us boycotted the NFL because we felt it violated a Black man’s right to free speech.
For Kaepernick to never get signed back and eventually have to take a settlement from the league was a clear sign that the NFL was not the face of social justice. That remains true to this day. No major deal with Jay-Z will change that and the fact that such optics are currently in motion infuriates me even more. No one is “stuck on Colin not having a job,” but the fact that the NFL thought it was okay to publicly blacklist him for standing up against racial injustice.
For a man who has rapped about the very inequities facing Black men in America, Jay-Z should know better. But this isn’t about social justice more than it is about him expanding his reach as one of the most powerful celebrities in the game. At this point, Jay-Z could partner with Chick-fil-A and try to convince us that it’s an “actionable item.” Money holds no boundaries for one that seeks to acquire it without compassion.
As for the rest of us, the work continues. Many of us already can smell the B.S. from a mile away and now it’s time to remind others as well. Let’s not let the NFL’s new token poster-child deter us from what matters most: Using our voices to speak truth to power and dismantle systems of oppression.
This fall will be “football season” for some, but simply autumn for me. Continue to boycott the NFL.
Ernest Owens is an award-winning journalist and CEO of Ernest Media Empire, LLC. Based in Philadelphia, he’s a Writer at Large for Philadelphia magazine and has been published by several national publications. Follow Owens on Twitter @MrErnestOwens.