Jay-Z has partnered with the NFL to help 'make changes'
After years of criticism for its social justice efforts, the NFL just caught a life-saving pass from rap mogul and entrepreneur Jay-Z.
According to The New York Times, the league has partnered with Roc Nation, the rapper’s entertainment company, to be its “live music entertainment strategist,” consulting on entertainment and social justice projects.
This will give Jay-Z autonomy over events like the Super Bowl halftime show, but more importantly, a say in the next chapter of the league—which is still trying to right the ship after facing years of protests and a high-profile celebrity boycott of the Super Bowl.
“The N.F.L. has a great big platform, and it has to be all-inclusive,” Jay-Z told the Times. “They were willing to do some things, to make some changes, that we can do some good.”
This deal is unique in scope and profile, but it’s not the first time the league has tried to improve its image with a new partnership or initiative. The NFL, and its commissioner, Roger Goodell, has earned a negative reputation in the past few years for its social justice efforts, treatment of its players, and front office diversity—despite the sport’s place as one of the most powerful, profitable, and enduring icons of American culture.
“We don’t want people to come in and necessarily agree with us; we want people to come in and tell us what we can do better,” Goodell said of the Roc Nation deal. “I think that’s a core element of our relationship between the two organizations, and with Jay and I personally.”
There’s a ton to unpack here, especially considering Jay-Z’s relationship to Colin Kaepernick—who he still hasn’t spoken to as of Monday. When the former San Francisco 49er knelt in protest of the National Anthem in 2016, it raised the profile of a league-wide protest of police brutality—and potentially got him blackballed from professional football in the process, as he’s still unsigned by a team.
“[Kaepernick] absolutely brought this conversation alive,” Jay-Z told the Wall Street Journal. “We like to think that the way we build the [NFL’s social-awareness program] Inspire Change platform, that if anything close to that would happen in the future, then Kaepernick would have a platform where he can express himself and maybe it doesn’t have to take place on the field."
Last year, the NFL announced that it was partnering with the Players Coalition, an advocacy group founded by Malcolm Jenkins and Anquan Boldin of players focused on social change, on a seven-year, multi-pronged initiative. It’s called “Inspire Change,” which is the platform Jay-Z alluded to in the Wall Street Journal interview. The program is designed to help underserved communities and bridge gaps in education and income, while also offering programs that target the unique injustices faced by the black community.
The NFL has already made a huge financial commitment to the program—$8.5 million in 2018 and slated to reach $12 million in the 2019 fiscal year—which is allocated as grants across several nonprofits, among them the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Operation HOPE, Dream Corps, and the United Negro College Fund.
Even before that, the NFL instituted the Rooney Rule in 2003—which the NFL designed to make organization and its clubs more inclusive, mandating that minority candidates be interviewed for top coaching decisions. And while the league has seen the hiring of several African-American coaches since then, including Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, all but three head coaches are white going into next season.
With the 2019 NFL season set to kick off on September 5, this is likely just the beginning of what’s to come from this partnership—we’ll see if the NFL and Goodell get the credibility boost they’re looking for.
At this point, it's unclear how athletes and hip-hop is taking the news. So far, we’ve seen more of a reaction from media than athletes on social media—it’s likely that the latter group is waiting until more information is released about the deal before chiming in. Although New York Giants running back—and Roc Nation client—Saquon Barkley recently told the New York Daily News of Kaepernick, “If a fan wants to not be a fan of me because I retweet a thing for Colin Kaepernick, I don’t care,” he said. “But I respect that people have their own opinions. Everyone is entitled to that. I just would hope that people respect I have a right to my own opinion, as well.”