Jordan: Today’s story is about power and who wields it. It’s about activism and it’s about hypocrisy, and it’s also about rap music and football. If there is anyone in the entertainment industry big enough to tell the NFL, the world’s biggest sports league, to shove it just on a point of principle, it’s Jay Z. He has literally done that in public, and on the record, he did it in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and a group of players who were taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and inequality.
Colin: There are a lot of things that are going on that unjust people aren’t being held accountable for, and that’s something that needs to change. You know, this country stands for freedom, Liberty, justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.
Jordan: That stance cost Kaepernick his job, but it forced the NFL teams and the league itself to grapple with some uncomfortable truths. It’s now been three years since Kaepernick played his last NFL game, and the league hasn’t been able to shake the controversy around its players and the role race plays in their experience. I mean, it’s been hard for a group of white billionaires to publicly empathize with African American men who have fought their way out of poverty, and are playing for their family’s futures. So what the NFL needed was someone who could bridge that gap. And they found a businessman.
News Clip: It’s the NFL’s newest team business in music mogul Jay Z, partnering with commissioner Roger Goodell in the league, The unlikely alliance seems like a Hail Mary after the rapper publicly bashed the NFL over its handling of the Colin Kaepernick controversy.
Jay Z: I guess my speaking out board about a conversation which brought about a conversation would lead to a partnership.
Jordan: When the league kicks off its 100th season tonight, it will do so with a concert programmed by its newest business partner, Jay Z, the same guy who stood with Colin, the same guy who made no secret of his disdain for the league’s politics. All it took was the right number, but who won that deal? And what does it mean for the future of politics and sports? The NFL hopes that this partnership will put the Kaepernick mess behind them, and it might. But has Jay Z really sold out his principles for corporate money? Or is there a long game here? I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings and this is The Big Story Donnovan Bennett of Sportsnet is our go to guest whenever sports collides with politics. He’s going to attempt to unpack this for us here. Hi Donnovan.
Donnovan: Hey, I’m gonna try because I don’t even know how I feel about it in my head And it’s been a little bit.
Jordan: But tonight the NFL kicks off its 100th season with a concert starring Meek Mill of Roc Nation. Explain what that means to a league that’s obviously ah, done battle on the political front recently.
Donnovan: Yeah, NFL Kickoff certainly sounds like Meek Mill and Megan Trainor as your headliners. That makes a lot of sense. No, I mean the NFL, when we had conversations about it leading into the last couple seasons, they were not about football or our respective fantasy teams. They were about the political football that was being passed back and forth, and their deal with the ROC nation. The entertainment company founded by Jay Z, is hoping to do two things at once, and I say that with a question mark I’m still not really sure. One certainly is to take the focus of the politics that have been in the game and have some actionable items that they can work towards. And the other is to revamp halftime shows and right.
Jordan: Have Jay Z and Beyonce play the Super Bowl, right?
Donnovan: Potentially, I mean, have Jay Z and Roc Nation input in terms of revamping their halftime shows, which really weren’t an issue. The issue with the halftime show at the Super Bowl was that no one wanted to perform at it because no one wanted a relationship with the NFL because they didn’t want to cross the picket line. So to speak, in that phrase is Colin Kaepernick’s agents. Mark Geragos is not mine because they felt having relationship with the NFL was then turning your back to Colin Kaepernick and everything that he stood for in terms of social change and police brutality in the United States. So a refresher for those who don’t remember because it’s been a while. In 2016 in the preseason, Colin Kaepernick, quarterback at the time for the San Francisco 49ers, was sitting for the national anthem. He wasn’t standing and it wasn’t a story until a photo from the press box was leaked on social media and people retroactively asked him why he wasn’t standing for the anthem. And he basically said the anthem didn’t support the hopes and values that he saw the country he wanted to be a part of any reference things like racial inequality, depression in terms of financial stresses on people in impoverished areas and police brutality. He later eventually amended his stance. Instead of sitting, he he knelt and from 2016 Till today, players have still protested the national anthem. The league has tried to put in some rules around how you can protest, which again made this story even bigger. And Donald Trump made it a political issue.
Jordan: Something this time last year about that’s what we were talking about is Donald Trump versus the NFL.
Donnovan: And Colin Kaepernick after Donald Trump made it such a big issue, has not been able to find work in the NFL. He sued the NFL, him along with Eric Reid for collusion. It’s a case that he won, yet he still doesn’t have a job. Here comes Jay Z, who historically has been outspoken about how much he believes in Kaepernick, called him an inspiration and an icon, said at a concert in Miami that he should continue to protest he wore Kaepernick’s jersey during a performance on Saturday Night Live. Yet he has done a deal with the NFL, hoping to change the narrative in terms of the conversation around what’s happening before football games and what, if any, duty The NFL has to solve societal issues. But what happened was the opposite. It just became a bigger conversation, and people were upset that Colin Kaepernick wasn’t part of the conversation.
Jordan: How did the football world react to this?
Donnovan: Yeah, it’s Ah, it’s a good question. I mean, players who were in line with Kaepernick were immediately upset. Kenny Stills, player for the Miami Dolphins, who right before this happened, called out his own or Stephen Ross, who put together a fundraiser for Donald Trump. And that was the NFL conversation that people were having. And because of the awareness that Kenny Stills brought to that issue, people started to boycott Stephen Ross’s businesses. People were giving back through Equinox memberships because of it, and it became an issue on that team where Brian Flores, the new coach of Miami Dolphins, who’s an African American, wants to get off on a good start with his boss but also with his football team, was put in a tough spot and spoke to me about how he wished Kenny Stills would have went to the owner directly. Later, he would then scold him by playing eight consecutive Jay Z songs in a row. Kenny Stills talk to media and said that Jay Z seemed very uninformed on the issues that he was talking about and seemed suspicious that there was going to be resolution but was willing to wait. Eric Reid, who also protested wtih Colin Kaepernick, also sued the NFL. Basing the fact that he thought he was out of work for some time due to collusion was also outspoken. And there was a specific line that many of the the players took issue with, and Jay Z, in his media availability at the Rock nation, had offices where NFL press conference
Jordan: Where they announced the deal.
Donnovan: Yes when they announced the deal with Roger Goodell beside him, said, We’re past the kneeling and the players specifically took that personally because they looked around and said, You were never kneeling. You never put your paycheck on the line for these causes. You never put your employer in a tough situation. So the fact that Jay Z came in, to, in a way, co-opt the movement that Colin Kaepernick certainly started wasn’t able to continue. But a bunch of players in the NFL tried to carry the torch for him. Players in the NFL felt dismissed in a in a word.
Jordan: How does Jay Z justify that? He has been so out spoken and supportive of Kaepernick a then to turn around and enter into, ah, business deal with the league that’s guilty of colluding against him, according to the court?
Donnovan: Yeah, and he addressed that in his press conference, the rock nation office, which I found very interesting. One still photographer, only NFL films filming it, a small list of invited journalists like to me, that almost sounds like propaganda, right?
Jordan: He’s not letting anybody come in there and ask, ask the tough questions.
Donnovan: Certainly people who have been very, very staunch defenders of Colin Kaepernick and have taken Roger Goodell man, and the NFL office to task Were not on that invite list and he said something, and this is where my conflict is, he said. So what are we gonna do: help millions and millions of people? Or we get stuck on Colin not having a job? And in a way, sadly, there’s some truth to what he’s saying. He spoke about being past kneeling and needed actionable items. But the problem is he hasn’t really outlined what success looks like and what those actionable items are. Because everything else, he said, whether it’s in the press release or the press conference was very vague. And it was political speak, to be honest,
Jordan: Because I was gonna ask you about that. So this is part of the Inspire Change initiative, is what the NFL is calling it. And would I just wanted to know because I hadn’t seen it anywhere is exactly what kind of change they’re working towards. Like what do they actually want to achieve?
Donnovan: Well we know more about the music side of this than the the social justice.
Jordan: We already know the concert lineup. So what is it? What’s the social justice side?
Donnovan: We know the concert side of it. We know that there’s going to be merchandise sold and there’s going to be NFL playlists on and funds from all of that is going to go to inspire Change, which does some great work, and the Players Coalition, which is a group that was formed basically to keep the NFL on the promise of putting money towards the causes that they said they care about. They’ve got 85 million in 2018. They’re looking at over 100 million from them in 2019 and beyond. Some of that money goes to the Negro College Fund to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, so certainly there’s lots of money going to good places. Some people who have done the counting on it have said Well, that was money that the NFL earmarked to give to charities Anyways, they just change the charities they’re giving to, and it’s really not a bigger investment from the NFL. But still, there’s people having a conversation about these issues which wasn’t happening for Colin. Kaepernick took a knee the Players coalition was formed, Jay Z is supposed to be on board so that you have a black face in the room when these decisions are being made representation matters. We talked about that all time. He is supposed to be the representation. Unfortunately, he’s never worn a shot helmet. He’s closer to the other billionaires who are making decisions than you are the players who, many of which have come from impoverished communities, 70% of which are black, or the people on the ground that Colin Kaepernick was taking a stand for in the first place. And so, naturally, when there’s a business deal, you look at who has something to gain, and Jay Z certainly has more to gain personally and professionally, then people think he is helping the struggling people of America gain. So he has a very good social justice record, so we’ll see if he’ll make good on it in this case.
Jordan: Do we know what calling Kaepernick himself actually thinks of this?
Donnovan: Yeah, well, he has been well, his agent said. Jay Z essentially crossed the picket line. Colin has been without calling out Jay Z by name, he’s thrown some vague shots at him via his social media account, but he’s gone out of his way to thank the other players who are continuing to protest. But in doing that use language to make it clear that he’s been watching. He’s been listening and things that Jay Z is saying he is vehemently disagreeing with and their relationship is part of the issue here. Jay Z alluded to the fact that he talked to Colin Kaepernick before signing off on this deal. His girlfriend, him being Colin Kaepernick, came out and said, That’s not the case whatsoever. People then said, Well, it may have been semantics where he potentially did not talk to Colin Kaepernick before accepting terms on the deal, but reached out to him before it was announced and the press conference happened. But also I think some of that is lack of being upfront is why people have an issue with Jay Z, not even just the relationship with the NFL, or if this is gonna cause any real change because there is a pattern of his history of doing things behind people’s back when he is the person to gain.
Jordan: How so?
Donnovan: Well, I mean, if we could even look to this NFL deal. It’s been reported by Funkmaster Flex, a big hip hop deejay and by others by Bryan Michael Cox, who is a big songwriter that Jermaine Dupri essentially had this deal had this deal, and it was leading into the Super Bowl in Atlanta. He was gonna help the NFL around that Super Bowl, the concerts, the promotion. Get a lot of Atlanta artists on board, which is pretty much what everybody wanted, and he was gonna help them with the Social justice issues on the back end. And allegedly Jay Z reached out to Jermaine Dupri and told him not to take the deal. And we know that Jay Z has had a pattern of reaching out to people telling them not to work with the NFL because Travis Scott has said that Jay Z reached out even though Travis Scott decided he was going to be a part of the Super Bowl halftime anyways, many artists have said that Jay Z was leading cause saying, You can’t be a part of this Super Bowl and Jay Z himself has rapped about the fact in the song ape shit that he said no to the NFL.
Donnovan: It’s because he’s making content out of that fact out of the fact that in a way it’s a bit of a flexible of a humble brag that I’m big enough that I can say no to NFL until maybe–
Jordan: It’s not even that humble of a brag.
Donnovan: Well, no, it’s not. And until TMZ reported literally the day after this was announced that Jay Z has in line some potential significant ownership stake with an NFL team.
Jordan: Is that the end goal for him here? He’s a business man.
Donnovan: It’s tough to say because he is a businessman and it that we’re going to use his music as the blue print. One of the most famous lines is I’m a business man, not a businessman. So he literally is an industry in himself, and he can change the way people think about things. And what the NFL is buying is some Jay Z capital. They’re trying to buy some goodwill, and they’re trying to deflect and point the spotlight onto him and off of them. And he is using his popularity and his followers. A lot of his followers have been supporters of him through this, saying, I’m gonna use some of that capital to leverage it into actual capital and get into, you know, one of the biggest old boys clubs ownership in the NFL. The issue there is, if that is his angle on his play. It’s a conflict of interest. Roc Nation is the music arm of his business, but Roc sports is the agency arm of his business. Saquon Barkley could be the face of NFL for the next 10 years. He’s a client of roc sports, And so Jay Z can’t have a sports agency and also be the owner of a team and also work with the league on their entertainment. Like you can’t have your hand in that many pots because it is a conflict of interest. And it was an issue when he was an NBA owner, had a small stake in the Brooklyn Nets. He was going to make the Nets cool again, bring them to Brooklyn. He worked with them on their in house entertainment, and their musical playlist was seen wearing it Nets gear all of the time. To make the rebrand really cool. Bruce Ratner give him a portion of the deal, and like a smart businessman, he got some equity for his talents in his mind and leveraging again his popularity. And then when he started his basketball agency and represented players like Kevin Durant, he then had to sell his business interest. A couple years later, who does he deliver to the Brooklyn Nets on a platter? Kevin Durant and part of that deal was Kevin Durant’s not only gonna play for the Brooklyn Nets, but Kevin Durant, also young emerging business person. Part of the reason why he went played for the Golden State Warriors because he wanted to get his hand in some of the tech money in the Silicon Valley. He also wants to have a production company himself. And so having relationship with Roc Nation makes sense for Kevin Durant. So you see at the high level where if it doesn’t make money, it doesn’t make sense. Some of these cyclical recycling of the money that we accuse corporate entities of doing is happening with these guys that are supposed to be agents for change. But really, at the end of the day, they’re capitalists, and that’s why people feel like this is a little bit uncomfortable if we go back to the song Ape Shit. The music video is in the louve and at the time when it came out, it was a sign of black empowerment. Jay Z and Beyonce’s The Carters they were able to literally shut down one of the world’s biggest tourist attractions, and in a place that full of fine art, not a place that historically was welcoming to people who grew up in poverty. And now they’re so rich they shut the place down for their own–
Jordan: Yeah it was a powerful statement.
Donnovan: It’s a powerful statement, but also people take from that statement that we’ll know you’re actually, at this point an aristocrat. You are closer to the other billionaires that you play with, and you’re so far removed from the people who are consuming your your music that your power isn’t really helping them, even though the symbol looks great.
Jordan: So a similar question to what you’ve just described then I was gonna ask you is I realized that there’s some bad looks for Jay Z and all this. Is it worth it if he busts down the door and becomes the first black NFL owner?
Donnovan: I mean one of the things and I really don’t want to jump to judge me, even though all of this feels really uncomfortable. But a lot of people said, Well, Jay Z’s up there laughing it up with Roger Goodell. It’s a bad look when Colin Kaepernick still doesn’t have a job. If you want to do this deal, he should have brought Colin with him. He’s had been part of it. He should bring him to the table. This was all Colin’s idea, and I was like, Well, what if his endgame would be to give Colin a job like Jay Z said to Roger Goodell, I’m not doing this deal unless you force Colin Kaepernick on a team. Well, that would just be collusion. That would just be Roger Goodell
Jordan: That would be the other side of collusion, the same thing.
Donnovan: Yeah, I actually have the power to do what I said. I didn’t do so that would that be better for Colin Kaepernick, with Jay Z coming in with an affirmative action hand? Change the conversation? And one of the interesting things about this is that both sides of the coin dramatic Jay Z, Eric Reid and players were mad at Jay Z, Tommy Larrin, Fox news was managing. Somehow he got the far left and the far right really upset him at the same time.
Jordan: Sometimes that means you’re doing it right.
Donnovan: Well, exactly. And if he actually got into the room and was powerful enough to say no, I’m a owner. I’m going to empower a coach and a GM to not be afraid of consequence. Not be afraid of what the White House press secretary is saying. Colin Kaepernick is gonna get a job. And if sports is really gonna be a meritocracy, that we hope it is. If it works out great and if it doesn’t, then you know what? I’m gonna have a place somewhere in my organization for Colin Kaepernick a quarterback coach, advance scout, a activist, a community ambassador. Whatever. That would be a great ending scenario. But at this point, the way it happened with Jay Z seemingly doing it from a backdoor scenario, I don’t know if we ever get to that place. I do see both sides of it, and it comes back to a place where it’s like that Spider Man meme, everyone’s pointing the finger at the other person, and everyone’s calling everyone a hypocrite at this point, and somehow Roger Goodell just moved, walked out of the out of the room and no one’s talking about him.
Jordan: That was my last question for you is like all of this aside and whatever Jay Z’s future ambitions are aside in the current term, this is a win for the establishment, right?
Donnovan: I think so. I mean, what it couldn’t have been any worse, So I I don’t.. even if the gains are marginal, it’s still a game and there’s a quote Goodell had five years ago I found super interesting as we look at it now. And he said, We’d like to say the NFL is the ultimate meritocracy. You can play football, they want to see you play, the teams want you, the fans want you. Then that’s ultimately what it’s all about. And we’re like, Wow, that’s a profound statement that Roger Goodell finally address Colin. No, he’s talking about Michael Sam, and so Roger Goodell tried to lead on the stance of I want everyone in my league. I will give people who have committed heinous crimes a second chance because I believe in rehab and I want players who want to be a part of the community and who can play football a part of this league except on this issue. This is the one issue where he has said nothing. At the press conference, he refused to say Colin Kaepernick’s name, and so you really see the power of the owners basically running Roger Goodell and him being the face of this. So powerful that Kenny Stills, who took Steven Ross to task, was traded before the season, is
Jordan: No longer on the team,
Donnovan: No longer on the team. So certainly these owners have a lots of power. Robert Kraft, who has been one of the most outs spoken supporters of Donald Trump, was the guy that brokered the roc nation deal between Jay Z and the NFL. And he was also the guy who helped Meek Mill get out of jail. And so you see that these owners have power in real life and in the NFL life, Roger Goodell wants to allow them to continue to have that power. He just doesn’t want to take all the arrows because of it. And I think Jay Z is being used as a shield for the NFL establishment Jay Z has a real chance and the optics look like he’s just enriching himself. Because when I think of police brutality and social change, the thing that gets it done is playlist and T shirts, right, like that’s not actually gonna change the way people think in America. But we’ll see. This is the constant struggle that movements have of representation matters, having a seat at the table but also not having a crabs in a bucket mentality where you’re just fighting for yourself, you’re not helping everyone else get up with you. It’s the struggle that all movements have, whether it was Malcolm X and Martin Luther King who are on different sides of that same conversation we’ve seen in the movements that are going on right now, whether it’s me too or the woman’s rights movement, but we’ll see what Jay Z does.
Jordan: Thanks, Donovan. Donovan Bennett from Sportsnet. That was The Big Story, if you want more we’re at the big story dot c a. We’re also on Twitter at the big story, F P M you can find Frequency Podcast Network, the home of us, and several other great podcasts at Frequency Podcast network dot com. And you can, of course, find all the podcasts everywhere they are. We’d love a rating and a review. Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow.
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