Jay-Z’s NFL Deal Reignites Criticism Of League’s Treatment Of Colin Kaepernick

People on Twitter have expressed skepticism over the announcement that the NFL and Jay-Z’s entertainment and sports company, Roc Nation, have formed a long-term partnership, citing the league’s controversial history with Colin Kaepernick.

Jay-Z, who has been a vocal supporter of Kaepernick ― he called the quarterback and activist an “iconic figure” in an interview last year ― has partnered with the NFL via Roc Nation as the league’s “official Live Music Entertainment Strategists,” according to a Wednesday press release. 

As part of the deal, Roc Nation will spearhead and advise on the artist selection for music performances, including the widely watched Super Bowl halftime show.

The company will also focus on the league’s social justice platform, called Inspire Change, the release said. The initiative, launched earlier this year, aims to address the following themes: education and economic advancement, police and community relations, and criminal justice reform. 

MTV host Nessa Diab, who is in a relationship with Kaepernick, appeared critical of the partnership, tweeting on Wednesday she was “at a loss for words.” 

The NFL, which after a wave of firings of Black head coaches after last season now has only three in the league in which 70% of the players are Black, has had a troubled history confronting racial justice issues. 

Kaepernick had filed a collusion grievance in 2017 alleging he was blackballed by the NFL after he sparked a wave of peaceful protests by players against racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem at a 2016 preseason game. After finishing that season with the San Francisco 49ers, a team he had led to the Super Bowl a few years earlier, he became a free agent. He remains unsigned.

His protests and subsequent ones by other players spurred harsh criticism from Donald Trump, first during his presidential candidacy and later when he assumed office. The players’ movement helped put conversations about free speech and social injustice into the national spotlight. Kaepernick’s grievance with the NFL concluded with a confidential settlement. 

Colin Kaepernick (right) was joined by San Francisco 49er teammate Eric Reid in taking a knee to protest racial injustice as

Colin Kaepernick (right) was joined by San Francisco 49er teammate Eric Reid in taking a knee to protest racial injustice as the national anthem played prior to the start of a regular season game against the Los Angeles Rams in Santa Clara, California, in September 2016.

Discussing the new partnership and its social justice initiatives, Jay-Z told The Wall Street Journal in an article published Tuesday that Kaepernick “absolutely brought this conversation alive.” 

He said he hopes “that the way we build the Inspire Change platform” will mean that players like Kaepernick and others who want to draw attention to social justice and inequality issues will have an outlet where they can express themselves “maybe it doesn’t have to take place on the field.”

On Tuesday, Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid, who was the first NFL player to kneel alongside Kaepernick, raised concerns about the timing of the league’s partnership with Roc Nation. He took note of the recent criticism Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross received for hosting a fundraiser for Trump’s reelection campaign last week. 

Reid also reached a settlement with the NFL after filing his own collusion grievance against the league in 2018. (He was later signed by the Carolina Panthers in the middle of last year’s season.)

“Interesting timing on the partnership with Jay-Z on the heels of Stephen Ross’ fundraiser for Donald Trump and the backlash his other companies are getting because of it,” he tweeted Tuesday. 

Reid later tweeted that he will be a “royal pain in the NFL’s a** for acting like they care about people of color by forming numerous disingenuous partnerships to address social injustice while collectively blackballing Colin…”

During a press conference on Wednesday, Jay-Z was questioned about his support for Kaepernick. In his 2018 song “Apeshit” with Beyoncé, the Brooklyn native referenced the NFL protests, rapping: “I said no to the Super Bowl / You need me, I don’t need you.” 

When asked how he could launch the partnership while Kaepernick remains unsigned by a team, Jay-Z suggested, according to Variety, that his efforts are a continuation of Kaepernick’s.

“I think that we forget that Colin’s whole thing was to bring attention to social injustice so in that case this is a success — this is the next thing,” he said. “There’s two parts of protest: the protest, and then there’s a company or individual saying, ‘I hear you, what do we do next?’ For me it’s about actionable items, what are we gonna do about it? We get stuck on Colin not having a job, you know what I’m saying? And this is more than that.”

Jay-Z and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who also attended Wednesday’s press conference, said they have been in communication with Kaepernick, but declined to provide any further details about their conversations.

The “4:44” rapper said, “You’ll have to ask him, I’m not his boss,” when asked on Wednesday whether Kaepernick would be involved with the partnership, Variety reported. Jay-Z told the Journal on Monday that he had not spoken with Kaepernick as of then. 

Diab said on Twitter after Wednesday’s press conference that Kaepernick did not have a conversation with Jay-Z and Goodell about the partnership “ahead of that deal being done.”

A person listed as a representative for Kaepernick did not immediately return HuffPost’s request for comment. 

On Wednesday, Jay-Z said he didn’t want people to “stop protesting at all,” but that it’s time to ask, “What’s the way forward?”

People have continued to question the authenticity of NFL’s partnership with Roc Nation on Twitter: