by James Viray
Earlier this month, the National Football League announced a new partnership with Roc Nation, hip-hop mogul Jay-Z's entertainment company. Roc Nation will advise on the selection of artists for major NFL performances like the Super Bowl and guide the League's social justice program, including its Inspire Change initiative. The announcement was met with criticism from the media, activists and NFL players. Critics believe that Jay-Z's involvement falsely validates the social stance of the very same organization that they believe colluded to keep one of the social justice movement's most high-profile champions quiet and off the field. Just as we wrote about the media fire stoked by Colin Kaepernick's kneeling protests three years ago, we think the current denunciations are also missing the mark.
This has never been about Colin Kaepernick's employment status--at least is should not have been. Three years ago, it wasn't--or should not have been--about who was or wasn't kneeling and whether kneeling was unpatriotic or not. Those protests were about raising awareness of the issue of police brutality against minorities. And today it's about coming up with and implementing the right policies and other solutions to end it.
Does Colin Kaepernick belong on an NFL team? Absolutely. A man with his talent could likely improve any one of the current thirty-two rosters. Did the NFL and team owners wrongfully target and penalize him for his social activism? Sure looks that way. Were those actions representative of the broader social and racial injustice in America? There's definitely a case for that. Is getting Colin back in the league more important than mobilizing people and resources to address those injustices? No. When he first began his protests, Colin himself said, "To me, this is bigger than football."
Whatever anyone thinks about Jay-Z's decision to partner with the NFL, you can't ignore the social justice work he's done in the past--from pushing for criminal justice reform to producing documentaries on Trayvon Martin and Kalief Browder. And no matter what people say about Roger Goodell, the NFL and team owners, there's no denying the league's reach--73 percent of American men and 55 percent of American women watch NFL games on television (football is by far America's favorite professional sport)--or its resources. There's a real opportunity here--but, we have to look beyond the protests to see it.