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Commentary: Is the backlash against Jay-Z’s deal with the NFL short-sighted?

(L-R) Jay-Z and Colin Kaepernick.
(L-R) Jay-Z and Colin Kaepernick. Getty Images

Savvy entrepreneur or sell-out snake? Last week Jay-Z and the NFL announced a massive new collaboration with the potential to fundamentally alter the future of the league going forward.

His company Roc Nation is set to combine forces with the NFL, with Jay-Z serving as the league’s “live music entertainment strategist.”

MORE: NFL and Jay-Z team up in social justice partnership

Beyond curating the Super Bowl’s halftime show, Jay-Z will also have oversight on the Inspire Change program.

But over a week later, not only social media but various think pieces continue to berate the rapper mogul for entering such a venture while Colin Kaepernick remains ousted from the league. Earlier this year, the NFL settled a lawsuit brought by Kaepernick and Eric Reid that alleged that owners colluded to keep them from playing in the league. Reid criticized Jay-Z’s new deal with the league, saying, “These aren’t mutually exclusive. They can both happen at the same time! It looks like your goal was to make millions and millions of dollars by assisting the NFL in burying Colin’s career.”

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READ MORE: Jay-Z addresses Colin Kaepernick in wake of Roc Nation, NFL deal

For others, the timing hit a particular nerve.  The collaboration was announced three years to the day after former-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first began his protest of “taking a knee” during the national anthem before games. For others, it was Jay-Z’s response during the press conference when probed on Kaepernick, that had them enraged, many outlets quoting these few words:

“I think we’ve moved past kneeling, and I think it’s time to go into actionable items.”

However most outlets failed to share his full sentiment, which continued with, ““No, I don’t want people to stop protesting at all. Kneeling, I know we’re stuck on it because it’s a real thing, but kneeling is a form of protest. I support protest across the board. … I’m not minimizing that part of it because that has to happen, that’s a necessary part of the process. But now that we all know what’s going on, what are we going to do? How are we going to stop it? Because the kneeling was not about a job, it was about injustice.”

That is why I don’t necessarily agree with all the righteousness in the rage. Because a lot of the fallout seems to be more about the optics than the execution at this point.

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In reading the full (of a much-developing) story, and not just the sound bites that make for buzz-worthy headlines, I think we should take a wait-and-see approach and give Jay-Z the benefit of the doubt before rushing to judgment.

It’s too soon to see exactly what Jay-Z actually has planned; but the collaboration certainly places him in a position where he actually can better affect change from the inside, both for the players’ and their efforts in enriching the lives of the marginalized and underprivileged communities they hope to support. We so often speak of having a seat at the table, and how difficult it is to affect change until we are part of those vital conversations.

I also think of the alternative. What if, for example, Kid Rock took on this exact role. Would we honestly be any better off in terms of culture, inclusivity and more specifically social justice efforts for the African-American community? That single step itself of being on the inside and working within the system to help fix its (many) flaws is progress.

If his role with the NFL ultimately helps Jay-Z impact real change for the disenfranchised, then isn’t that the same goal Kaepernick was striving for and would be glad to see?

WATCH (Aug. 9, 2019): Trump says Colin Kaepernick should play in the NFL ‘if he’s good enough’

Click to play video 'Trump says Colin Kaepernick should play in the NFL ‘if he’s good enough’' Trump says Colin Kaepernick should play in the NFL ‘if he’s good enough’
Trump says Colin Kaepernick should play in the NFL ‘if he’s good enough’

After all, Kaepernick’s protest was never against the NFL. It was a protest against police brutality and racial injustice.   A well-warranted protest, with a recent study revealing young black men in America are now two times more likely to get killed by police than their white peers. His protest was about so much more than football.

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Do I think he should be playing in the NFL right now? Absolutely, 100 per cent. I see Kaepernick as an icon and hero.  But I also don’t see Jay-Z’s partnership with the NFL as an affront to him. Just as we didn’t expect Kaep to consult with and sign over a portion of his lawsuit cheque from the NFL to Jay-Z, we shouldn’t expect the rapper to have consulted with him before this deal. I think we should actually give Jay-Z a chance to put his plan with the NFL into action before jumping into attacks on his intentions.

None of this negates any of the wrongdoings of the NFL. From the despicable blind eye to drug abuse, domestic violence, head trauma and concussions, to the systemic racism with the organization, there is much to be desired and much to be fixed in its broken system.

All the more the reason why to laud Jay-Z for taking their money and a seat at the messy table.

Both Jay-Z and wife Beyonce have a proven track record as change-makers, and we can’t dismiss that. In 2015, the power couple reportedly bailed out Black Lives Matter activists arrested during protests in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, Md. In the past two years, Jay-Z has raised $1.5 million for about a dozen social-justice organizations, and funded a docu-series on Trayvon Martin. Among many other things, he hired lawyers to help Meek Mill when he was unfairly sentenced, as well as stepped up to help 21 Savage who was detained by ICE, and bailed several men out of prison who didn’t have the resources to free themselves on Father’s Day.

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He is someone that has clearly shown support for his community — not just in tweets and hashtags, but in real action.

I think ultimately both Jay-Z and Kaep, along with many more people in marginalized communities, can all win in this equation, as it disrupts some of the power structures and paves the path for new voices to change the narrative.

Only time will tell, and while the NFL has more than 99 Problems, I’m betting Jay-Z can help mend some.

Meera Estrada is a cultural commentator and co-host of kultur’D! on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.