Jemele Hill: Jay-Z Is Helping The NFL Clean Up Its Image Problem After The Way It Treated Colin Kaepernick

Written by Ann Brown
Jemele Hill is seen at the 2019 Essence Festival at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on Friday, July 5, 2019, in New Orleans. (Photo by Donald Traill/Invision/AP)

Writer Jemele Hill has an interesting take on the controversial partnership recently announced by Jay-Z and the NFL. According to Harris, the NFL is using Jay-Z to clean up its image since the former quarterback Colin Kaepernick backlash.

“NFL announced that it would give Roc Nation, the music mogul’s entertainment company, significant power in choosing the performers for the league’s signature events — including the coveted Super Bowl halftime show. Jay-Z and Roc Nation will also help augment the NFL’s social-justice initiatives by developing content and spaces where players can speak about the issues that concern them,” Hill wrote in The Atlantic.

Many were surprised by the turn of events, especially since it seemed that Jay-Z supported Kaepernick and his cause. After all, the rapper had publicly criticized the NFL for its treatment of Kaepernick after the quarterback who took a knee during the national anthem three years ago to protest police brutality and racial injustice. Jay-Z even wore Kaepernick’s jersey on “Saturday Night Live.” 

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And in his megahit song “Apeshit,” Jay-Z rapped: “Once I said no to the Super Bowl: You need me, I don’t need you. Every night we in the end zone. Tell the NFL we in stadiums too.”

So on the surface, it would seem Jay-Z would be very much against dealing with the NFL some assumed. 

Jay-Zee saw it differently.

“I think that we forget that Colin’s whole thing was to bring attention to social injustice, correct?” Jay-Z said during the press conference. “So, in that case, this is a success; this is the next thing. ’Cause there’s 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?’ So, for me, it was like, action, actionable item, what are we going to do with it? Everyone heard and we hear what you’re saying, and everybody knows I agree with what you’re saying. So what are we going to do? So we should, millions of millions of people, and all we get stuck on [is] Colin not having a job. I think we’re past kneeling. I think it’s time for action.”

The financial arrangements have not been made public. But whatever the numbers, the NFL’s new partnership with Jay-Z is a huge win for the league. Some of the biggest celebrities in the world have voiced their support of Kaepernick, saying they would boycott the NFL until Kaepernick is back in the league.

It’s a win-win for the NFL.

“Now that the NFL has Jay-Z’s blessing, it’s conceivable that some of those entertainers who distanced themselves from the NFL might change their mind. Jay-Z has given the NFL exactly what it wanted: guilt-free access to black audiences, culture, entertainers, and influencers,” Hill wrote.

NFL officials are hoping that with the Jay-Z deal the negative perceptions surrounding how it handled the Kaepernick situation will turn around. It hasn’t been good. Potential Superbowl half-time performers like Rihanna and Cardi B  reportedly turned down the opportunity to appear at the event show out of support of Kaepernick. “Other celebrities, such as the comedian Amy Schumer, publicly pressured the Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine to pull out of his performance. The Reverend Al Sharpton, the civil-rights leader, blasted the rapper Travis Scott, who performed with Levine,” Hill wrote.

So the NFL is counted on Jay-Z to turn this around, though some question his motives.

“I get that Jay-Z might see this as an opportunity for artists to connect with the NFL’s immense audience. He could also offer some incredible insight and direction to the league on the social-justice front, since he’s been actively engaged in such work for a long time. I also understand that, to become hip-hop’s first billionaire, Jay-Z didn’t always have the luxury of avoiding relationships and partnerships with people he disagreed with or disliked,” Hill wrote.

Some wonder why Jay-Z didn’t brother the deal with Kaepernick involved. 

“By leaving Kaepernick completely out of the mix, Jay-Z is now complicit in helping the NFL execute its strategy. Now he is an accomplice in the league’s hypocrisy,” Hill wrote, who added that despite this latest move, she acknowledges all the work Jay-Z has done for the African-American community.

“I don’t question Jay-Z’s commitment to social justice or his desire to empower African Americans. He has consistently used his platform to have critical conversations and bring awareness to the inequalities and injustices that Black people regularly face. Jay-Z brilliantly put into perspective how the war on drugs disproportionately hurt Blacks and Latinos. He executive-produced a riveting six-part documentary series on the slain teen Trayvon Martin that aired on BET last summer. He also produced a miniseries on Kalief Browder, who was falsely imprisoned at New York’s Rikers Island for three years, starting when he was 16 years old, for allegedly stealing a backpack. Browder died by suicide a year after he was released,” Hill wrote.

She added that the Hip-Hop mogul has funded a number of initiatives for education and professional development. 

“I don’t believe Jay-Z is a sellout, because his track record proves otherwise. But it does seem like he’s being used as cover. Or, at best, a buffer,” Hill wrote.