NFL deal with Jay-Z is coming under serious scrutiny.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Did Jay-Z just make a deal with the devil?

Jay-Z’s Thursday announcement that he is partnering his Roc Nation organization with the NFL has many wondering what the Black billionaire entertainment mogul expects to get out of this curious “partnership” deal.

Because of the mistrust of the NFL, some are even questioning whether Jay-Z “sold out.”

Jay-Z’s heart may very well be in the right place. But not everything can be resolved by a business deal—even in a society where money often dictates human value.

The NFL’s only interest here seems to be buying Jay-Z’s influence to silence all the negative press they have been getting, especially because of their treatment of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. They are clearly trying to get back in the good graces of the Black community, and celebrity entertainers, who have been avoiding the NFL and refusing to perform at events like the Superbowl half-time show, as Jay-Z did.

Here we must ask this uncomfortable question: has Jay-Z just made a deal with the devil?

On Thursday, the NFL and Jay-Z’s Roc nation announced that this partnership would help promote social change and “strengthen community through music and the NFL’s ‘Inspire Change’ initiative.” NFL owners have reportedly agreed to contribute $89 million over six years to certain community causes. Jay-Z will become the league’s “live music entertainment strategist” and will help direct their “Inspire Change” initiative.

He will also be eligible for part ownership in an NFL team.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “Roc Nation is one of the most globally influential and impactful organizations in entertainment. The NFL and Roc Nation share a vision of inspiring meaningful social change across our country. We are thrilled to partner with Roc Nation and look forward to making a difference in our communities together.”

It’s hard to believe Roger Goodell, and the NFL owners, really care about “making a difference in our communities” given their track record.

Apparently, Jay-Z was surprised by the skepticism and push back that came with the announcement. Jay-Z should’ve expected this since Kaepernick is still being punished by the NFL for taking a knee to highlight the racist nature of American policing.

Jay-Z probably has great intentions here. However, the real problem is trusting a deceitful entity like the NFL to help foster “meaningful social change,” even with the $89 million commitment to charity. The NFL, if Black America is to believe them, must start speaking in an unequivocal manner regarding social justice issues affecting Black people, who wear skins like the ones who make money for the NFL.

But can we expect the NFL to use their voice and take a principled stand on criminal justice and racial policing issues?

The skepticism many have about this NFL deal is well warranted. This is the same NFL which refused to stand up for their Black players against the unfounded race-baiting attacks coming from Donald Trump.

The Trump factor is important here—since his provocative antics of lying about why Kaepernick was kneeling did everything to create and inflame the negative divisive situation the NFL finds itself in. The NFL should be blaming and denouncing Trump, not Kaepernick, for the public relations problem they find themselves in. If Trump behaved in a presidential manner the controversy regarding Kaepernick kneeling would have been much less virulent.

We all remember Trump’s attacks on these Black football players. We should also remember the NFL refused to stand strong when he was calling their players “sons of bitches,” issuing soft press statements when more powerful responses were needed.

At one point, Trump said if Black players don’t stand for the national anthem “maybe they shouldn’t be in the country.” Recently, Trump again used this “go back to your country” line to attack Black and Brown members of Congress.

Through all of this, the NFL did little to rebut Trump’s lies. Even worse, by their weakness they made it appear to many of their White fans that Trump was correct with his ridiculous racist rants. The NFL could’ve used their power to push back strongly against Trump. We must question why they didn’t.

Let’s recall how NBA coaches Gregg Popovich, of the San Antonio Spurs; Steve Kerr, of the Golden State Warriors; and Stan Van Gundy, then of the Detroit Pistons, all repeatedly condemned Trump, in televised press statements. They did this even when Trump never attacked the NBA. But they did it realizing he was constantly attacking people of color, like those who play in their NBA. In doing this, they showed solidarity with their Black players—and the communities they come from—unlike what we’ve witnessed with the NFL’s vapid responses to Trump.

Why was the response to Trump from the NFL so feeble?

The NFL could’ve use the controversy to educate their White fans that any true belief in respecting the flag, and national anthem, should also entail respecting the First Amendment rights of Black players—even when you disagree with them. Instead, NFL owners, like Jerry Jones, went along with Trump’s bigoted bellowing and engaged in silencing his players from giving voice to a life-and-death issue in the Black community.

So, why should we believe the NFL will dedicate themselves to truly trying to address racial injustice now when they couldn’t stand up for Kaepernick’s right to peacefully protest? What are we to think of NFL owners when they show no civic concern for Americans who are being given death sentences on the streets of America because their skin color is like 70 percent of their NFL players?

One of the main problems with believing in the sincerity of the NFL is the support many of their owners have given to Donald Trump. For example, there was recent news that Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross held a $250,000 ticket fundraiser for Trump in the Hamptons. Reportedly, around $12 million was raised.

Imagine all the grief Trump has caused the NFL with his racism. Yet, this owner is here raising funds to re-elect this presidential disgrace for four more years.

We also know other owners like Jerry Jones, of the Dallas Cowboys; Robert Kraft, of the New England Patriots; Robert McNair, of the Houston Texans; and Daniel Snyder, of the Washington Redskins; all supported Trump with campaign funding. We must question the morals of these folks. Can people like these, who support Trump, be expected to honestly become change agents?

Jay-Z said during the press conference that this NFL partnership will help “millions and millions of people.” That sounds great. But how? What are the “actionable items” Jay-Z is envisioning here?

Jay-Z regrettably made a troubling statement that makes some think he is abandoning Kaepernick when he said, “we get stuck on Colin not having a job.” Here Jay-Z seems to be saying changing the conditions of a mass of people is more important than how Kaepernick is being treated. There are some problems with this statement.

For one thing, the wrong that was done to Kaepernick was largely done by the very people we’re now being asked to trust to do the right thing moving forward. Also, this comment reveals Jay-Z knows the NFL still can’t bring themselves to honestly address what they have done to Kaepernick and bring him to the conversation table. Therefore, how are they going to be able to honestly speak about the issues Kaepernick championed? How are they going to be able to address criminal justice and racial policing issues?

The NFL cannot expect Black Americans to warm to them now because of this partnership when they are still unwilling to treat Kaepernick with respect. For Jay-Z’s sake, let’s hope he has some brilliant chess move up his sleeve to make this deal with the devil successful.

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