NFL and Jay-Z Can't Buy Social Justice Credibility Without Colin Kaepernick

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterAugust 16, 2019

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR NFL - NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, left, and Jay-Z appear at a news conference at ROC Nation on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019 in New York. The NFL and ROC Nation, Jay-Z’s entertainment and sports representation company, announced Tuesday they were teaming up for events and social activism, a deal Jay-Z said had been in the works over the last seven months. (Ben Hider/AP Images for NFL)
Ben Hider/Associated Press

Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter was in the middle of a press conference with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell this week to announce their new partnership when Carter said something striking. He spoke about the movement started by Colin Kaepernick:

"We forget that Colin's whole thing was to bring attention to social injustice," Carter said. "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?'

"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."

Maybe those words sounded nice at the time, but I can tell you with certainty that Kaepernick doesn't agree with any of them. Particularly the "next phase" part. Carter, whose Roc Nation entertainment company entered an agreement with the NFL to help select performers at league events—as well as aid in the league's social justice efforts—doesn't get to plot what the "next phase" is (and these are my words) without Kaepernick and Panthers defensive back Eric Reid helping to determine it.

There was a new potential development late Friday on this remarkable story that continues to grow. TMZ reported that Jay-Z will have a significant ownership piece of an NFL team.

We’ll have to see what details emerge. Jay-Z is crazy rich but owning a large share of an NFL team could possibly cost hundreds of millions of dollars. If not more.

Jay-Z may have larger plans than partnering with the NFL to fight for issues of social justice.

Having an owner of color would be rare and important but that doesn’t change the fact that there cannot be this type of movement without Kaepernick.

It remains an odd thing to believe you can move forward on a path blazed by someone else without consulting the original trailblazers.

Reid on Wednesday night blasted Carter, tweeting, in part:

Eric Reid @E_Reid35

These aren’t mutually exclusive. They can both happen at the same time! It looks like your goal was to make millions and millions of dollars by assisting the NFL in burying Colin’s career. https://t.co/LFBZpbj2tw

That's the problem with what Jay-Z is doing. The NFL eradicated Kaepernick's career because he took a stand against injustice, and now Jay-Z is partnering with the people who destroyed it.

Kaepernick showed he is a patriot. Jay-Z is showing what he is, too: an opportunist.

There are many examples of how the league says it wants to fight for social justice and then does something antithetical to that. Perhaps one of the starkest examples is the decision by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to hold a fundraiser last Friday for President Donald Trump's reelection campaign.

The fact that Ross, who heads the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE), an organization dedicated to eliminating bigotry and ending racial hostility, would host Trump is a little like the weapons officer on the Death Star saying he's not complicit in blowing up planets because he didn't build it.

Like a lot of league initiatives, the NFL's partnership with Carter seems more like good PR for the league than any type of sincere move to battle racial and social injustice.

Carter has to know this. He's too smart not to. And he's also made clear his disdain for the league in the past.

So what changed? Was it dollar dollar bills, y'all? Is Jay-Z just as transactional as the NFL he's partnered with?

No matter the answer, the bottom line remains that the NFL cannot have a legitimate social justice movement without Kaepernick.

Nothing can change that. Not Jay-Z. Not Goodell. No amount of money, either. The NFL could stack $100 bills from the ground to low orbit and hand that to Jay-Z or YG or ZZ Top and tell them to say the right things, but it doesn't matter.

Instead of partnering with Jay-Z, this is what the league should have done:

1. Goodell holds a press conference and apologizes to Kaepernick and Reid. "It's clear we made mistakes," Goodell could say, "and on behalf of the league, I apologize."

2. Give Kaepernick a budget of $50 million a year. That's about $1.5 million a team. Owners pay that to polish the rims on their limos.

3. Let Kaepernick use the money to address social justice problems however he wants.

4. Let him do it for five years.

5. Make sure Kaepernick has an unfettered path back to the NFL to play if he wants to.

The Jay-Z announcement was something, but it wasn't nearly enough. Don't take my word for it; just read what some who travel in the same elite entertainment circles as Jay-Z said:

Star director Ava DuVernay tweeted a message in support of Kaepernick: 

Ava DuVernay @ava

#ImStillWithKap https://t.co/u3TbYWMH8K

Rapper J. Cole (who has 13 million Twitter followers) thanked him:

J. Cole @JColeNC

Thank you @Kaepernick7 we ain’t forgot. @nfl let the man work. https://t.co/l9Ce9DQ1xD

This whole thing doesn't feel right, and it's obvious why. No matter how much money the NFL spends, or the star power it rents, any of its social justice endeavors will seem hollow without the man who started it all.


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.