Past Kneeling: Jay-Z and the NFL Deal


Unless you’ve been on a sabbatical with an indigenous tribe in the remote jungles of Peru for the past week, you’re most likely aware that the Brooklyn rapper and business mogul, Jay-Z, has been receiving tons of backlash for signing a deal that partners his Roc Nation imprint with the NFL, despite recently being a vocal and active supporter of a boycott against the sports league. If you, in fact, have been on sabbatical, first of all, welcome back! You can read the details of the deal and view a snowflake-worth of the blizzard of backlash in the link below:

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Before I dive into this article, I would, first, like to leave the disclaimer that this won’t be your typical read nor perspective, and that I am not a Jay-Z “apologist”. Reason being, I don’t feel there’s anything of which to apologize. This is my own original perspective. You can use your own inductive/deductive reasoning to either agree or disagree. I’ll spare your attention-span the burden of having to read a long and detailed laundry list of Jay-Z’s recent initiatives towards social and justice reform issues through his team of lawyers, journalists, and filmmakers called the Reform Alliance. I’ll try to bypass mentioning his recently produced docuseries, ‘The Kalief Browder Story’, that highlights the unjust arrest of a Bronx teenager sent to Ryker’s Island— a series that ultimately resulted in assisting with the closing of Ryker’s Island. I’ll be sure not to “hang a lantern” over the fact that he has, in the past, and continues to work with as well as financially support the parents of Trayvon Martin. I won’t write about how he’s assisted with getting rapper, Meek Mill, off probation, or any other things that seem to be of no importance to consider when questioning what his intentions may be for agreeing to work with the NFL’s “Inspire Change” initiative.  Instead, I’ll focus on something that may have been overlooked by many that have analyzed the Marcy Project’s pride and joy’s demeanor, motives and approach in last week’s NFL press conference. A huge oversight or something that may have not been considered that could be causing many to misread Hov’s approach is that… Jay-Z is a gangster.

Now, before you roll your eyes into the top of your skull and release an exasperated sigh, follow me on this while I explain what that means in reference to him receiving, possibly, unwarranted backlash for misinterpreted words and actions. In the film, ‘The Usual Suspects’, Roger “Verbal” Kint was a con-artist (who walked with a limp due to cerebral palsy) that was being interrogated by Los Angeles detectives in regards to a jewel heist gone bad. The character, played by Kevin Spacey, outsmarted the detectives, who were empathic to his disability and innocent nature, by making them believe that the heist was orchestrated by a mysterious crime-lord named Keyser Soze, when in actuality, it was committed by the soft-spoken con-man, Verbal. Jay-Z re-enacted this character in his video, ‘The City Is Mine’, back in 1997. In my opinion, he also re-enacted this character, to a degree, in his meeting with NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell. Americans are accustomed to having particular types of “leaders” and activists. We have our Barrack Obamas, our Martin Luther Kings and Malcom X’s, for starters. Coming off the bench, playing second-string we have our Al Sharptons and Jessie Jacksons who have grown to be viewed as manufactured “puppets”, yet tolerated and still called upon in times of black crisis. Never in the history of black leaders have we had a former drug-dealer turned rapper turned billionaire business mogul step to the plate to take on the system of social injustice and systematic racism on this level. I believe that this is largely the reason most people don’t understand Jay-Z’s chess moves, that seemingly come across as hypocrisy. He is an unfamiliar persona occupying a familiar space using unfamiliar tactics within that space. I say, to get results that we’ve never accomplished, maybe we should use approaches we’ve never tried.


After being denied record deals by labels in the 90’s, Jay-Z’s meteoric rise in the music industry came by him funding his own imprint, Roc-A-Fella Records, and applying street principles within that corporate structure.

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“It’s only fair that I warn ya, rap’s my new hustle, I’m treating it like the corner…”- Jay-Z ‘Come And Get Me’

 These principles and practices involve calculated levels of manipulation, communicating in coded conversation and moving intuitively, amongst other things. Moving up the ranks in the underworld of drug distribution involves practices like “boxing-in” the local competition, acquiring turf and product by deceptive means and etc. Morally and ethically, one can argue that these practices are not admirable, but within the realms of the drug world, the music industry and corporate America, morals and ethics come second to results, and the practices of these traits, refined, have been what has created Jay’s celebrated success in those arenas.

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Transferring these traits into the world of social activism is what is unchartered territory, not only for Jay-Z, but for black America as a whole. No, Jay-Z is not the type to consult Colin Kaepernick prior to making his business decisions. No, Jay-Z isn’t the type to fabricate or exaggerate a friendship with the NFL player turned activist in order to appease onlookers, at that moment. Why? Because his desired objective of placing himself within the fold of the NFL garners more substantial gains for the mission of changing that organization than him potentially ruining the mission by aligning himself with someone the organization views as a threat. That’s the rationale and mindset of a street hustler… Jay-Z is a gangster.

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During that NFL meeting at the Roc Nation headquarters, a white reporter asked Jay, “would you stand or kneel?” in curiosity to Jay’s alignment with Colin Kaepernick’s protest against the NFL. With all due respect to Colin Kaepernick, you don’t ask a black self-made billionaire who made it out the slums of a New York housing project during the height of the crack-era, as a white reporter sitting in his high-rise office, would he kneel in order to get white America to treat him like a human being. Visibly insulted and giving a “fuck outta here”- facial expression, Jay tactfully replied, “I think we’re past kneeling.” Many regarded that comment as Jay disregarding or dismissing protest efforts by the NFL athletes. I interpreted the comment as Jay saying that the level of protest has surpassed passive actions, and has moved into things like meeting with the NFL commissioner and negotiating an $80million check for his organization to infiltrate NFL corporate offices and turn around shit. I’m not sure how a seasoned reporter or anyone else missed that, considering that’s exactly what was transpiring when the question was asked.

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What many are claiming to have seen in that press conference was a black man “selling-out” to a racist white organization in order to line his, already fat, pockets. That is all that many people saw because that has been all we have been used to seeing in our recent past when it comes to celebrated black leaders. What I saw was a black man rocking dreadlocks and a fitted cap controlling the room while holding a meeting with the commmissioner of the NFL in his own working space and finessing a situation. What I saw was, after “boxing-in” his opposition by using his fame and influence to persuade his musical peers to help him starve the NFL, a man who understood his leverage. Jay-Z is a gangster.

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With all the above mentions, the over-arching question still remains. Is Jay-Z teaming with the NFL to truly shed light on social injustices or merely to check another box on his list of personal accomplishments? It’s difficult for me to fathom that a man who has built such a tall ladder for himself, generated so much love from his people, and is as intelligent as Jay-Z would sacrifice it all by unnecessarily “selling out” his culture, especially after already achieving the financial milestone of reaching a billion-dollar net worth. Do I think Jay-Z is finessing? Yes, I do. I just don’t believe that it is his culture who he is finessing. Observing his body language during the meeting with Roger Goodell, I can see that Jay’s integrity seems to be in tact, as it suggests he is not too domestically invested in the NFL commissioner as a person.

Click here I don’t actively watch or follow football. I don’t actively watch or follow any sport. When I, initially, saw that players were protesting police brutality by kneeling during the National Anthem, I questioned why they all didn’t just refuse to play. I felt that, if seeing a system of white “supremacy” using its agents (police) to shoot, choke-to-death and take the lives of innocent and unarmed black people filled them with conviction to make a statement as extreme as those actions, that statement should have been to refuse to throw, catch and run for their balls. I understand that this is a selfish outlook for me to have, being that my livelihood isn’t dependent on a check from the NFL, but I didn’t completely understand the logic in those actions. Being that refusing to play their sports or moving to completely dismantle the system of global capitalism didn’t seem like an open option for anyone, I didn’t understand the negative feedback from Jay-Z deciding to intertwine his Reform Alliance team with the NFL. I wholeheartedly believe that before we ignite the powers of cancel-culture to crucify a man that has a historical track record of “getting things done” and a recent track record of successfully building a machine that aims to dismantle the system of social injustice, we, first, allow him to work. I believe that before we call Jay-Z a sellout for teaming with the NFL, we hold our mirror to ourselves and analyze our own hypocrisy. I ask that we question the logic of questioning Jay-Z when we haven’t questioned a league full of black players who, even while “protesting” the league, continue to play for and generate billions for that league. I ask that we question our peers who don’t even read the warning labels on their own prescribed mental medications but have an opinion on the stipulations of Jay-Z’s multi-million dollar contract with the NFL to head social injustice reform initiatives. I ask that we question our logic in being so passionate in labeling Jay-Z a sellout for teaming with the NFL while our brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors and co-workers all still participate in fantasy football leagues, purchase jerseys and continue to watch NFL games, religiously.

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