NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said on Wednesday that he and rapper Jay-Z expected some criticism of their new partnership.
And that is what they are getting. Especially Jay-Z.
Jay-Z’s entertainment company Roc Nation, home to a record label and a sports agency, signed an extensive partnership with the NFL as “live music entertainment strategist.” As part of the deal, Jay-Z and Roc Nation will have a say on music performances including the Super Bowl halftime show, and will help guide the NFL’s social activism campaign “Inspire Change,” which it launched earlier this year.
In a pre-interview with the New York Times published one day before the official press conference, Jay-Z said, “The NFL has a great big platform, and it has to be all-inclusive. They were willing to do some things, to make some changes, that we can do some good.”
He was pushed further during a Q&A at the Wednesday press conference at Roc Nation headquarters in New York—specifically on the issue of Colin Kaepernick.
Jay-Z had publicly voiced support for Kaepernick’s social justice protests, and bragged in a new song last year, “I said no to the Super Bowl // you need me, I don’t need you.” His influence reportedly led other artists like Rihanna to turn down a Super Bowl performance as well.
Now athletes and cultural figures are questioning how Jay-Z can align himself with the league that blackballed Kaepernick. New York rap station Hot97 debated whether Jay-Z is “selling out.” Former ESPN host Jemele Hill, now writing for The Atlantic, accuses Jay-Z of helping the NFL “banish” Kaepernick.
Jay-Z said at the press conference that he sees “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?’ I think we have moved past kneeling. I think it's time for action.” He added, “We forget that Colin's whole thing was to bring attention to social injustice. In that case, this is a success. This is the next phase.”
The comment matches the tone that Jay-Z struck in a CNN interview with Van Jones in January 2018. The rapper praised Kaepernick, but also dismissed the idea that he should be trying to get a quarterback job. “Would you rather be playing football, getting your head dinged in,” Jay-Z said. “Or would you rather be an iconic figure for the rest of your life? We confuse the idea of having a job with fulfilling your purpose.”
Eric Reid, the NFL safety who was first to kneel alongside Kaepernick, his San Francisco 49ers teammate at the time, and now plays for the Carolina Panthers, isn’t buying it.
Reid tweeted about Jay-Z, “It looks like your goal was to make millions and millions of dollars by assisting the NFL in burying Colin’s career. In a followup tweet, he added, “Jay-Z doesn’t need the NFL’s help 2 address social injustices. It was a money move 4 him & his music business. The NFL gets 2 hide behind his black face 2 try to cover up blackballing Colin.”
After two seasons of TV ratings declines amid the Kaepernick protests, NFL ratings rebounded last season, up an average 5% according to Nielsen and the NFL. The current preseason is underway now.
Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.