The best TV show of all-time is The Wire. This is not up for debate.
One of the many quote-worthy lines of the HBO hit is this: “A man must have a code”.
This credo also enables society to understand what governs someone and how to judge their words and actions. A person should be held to the standards of which we, the public, have been introduced to them as living by.
If Floyd Mayweather tells the world he only cares about money, society should not expect Floyd to have an opinion of substance on anything outside of that. It’d be a waste of time of expect as much and debating with Floyd about the importance of x issue would be talking to a brick wall.
Whereas many Jay-Z fans have immediately taken the stance to trust the goodwill he has earned in the face of an objectively questionable decision to partner with the NFL, the case for criticism is in questioning the code Jay-Z has claimed to live by.
Those that have followed the Brooklyn emcee’s nearly 25 year career since the release of Reasonable Doubt, has seen the maturation and growth of Shawn Carter. What has endeared Carter to many is the presence of such a code. Even with a drug-dealing past, Carter infused “gems” about street-life and overcoming obstacles while coming up in an inner-city.
Perhaps this foundation has birthed Jay-Z’s business acumen: from the Roc-A-Fella days of clothing brand Rocawear and vodka line Armadale, entering a partnership with Live Nation to create a new all-encompassing entity—Roc Nation—and entering into the sports world with the label expanding to feature a sports agency component.
Another venture in sports saw Carter serving briefly as part-owner of the Brooklyn Nets franchise. Throughout it all the general public has understood these moves to be within Carter’s code. In considering his wins to be wins for the culture, ‘we’ have in turn celebrated the rapper’s ascension up the social stratification ladder.
What this deal with the NFL begs to question is: were we mistaken for believing that Jay-Z’s wins were moves made with the intention of Carter serving as a contemporary Robin Hood?
Fans of the rapper caution that rushing to condemn the partnership underestimates his end goal. To believe this is to be willfully ignorant of the power dynamics at play. The average NFL team is worth approximately $2.57 billion, equaling a combined value of $74.8 billion for the entire league, whereas Jay-Z recently reached the $1 billion threshold.
With a decent amount of the owners hailing from real estate and oil backgrounds it is foolish to believe Carter has any leverage over these ostentatiously wealthy men.
If anything Jay-Z should be seeking to join this Good Ole Boys club, which is what many critics see as Carter’s clandestine purpose behind the deal. This promotion of sorts would signal a definite end to the culture’s ability to join the festivities.
In order for a transaction to be finalized the parties involved must feel they have sufficiently gained in the deal. This transaction as the public is being told states the NFL will provide Jay-Z with compensation and access to its programs.
The music and entertainment aspect of Jay-Z’s responsibility in the deal is not the problem here. Rather, it is the selling of the notion that there will be new progress made on the social justice front and that this feature was the primary goal in the partnership. Usually social good and profits can be intrinsically linked —Kaepernick’s deal with Nike is evidence of such— but something new is not being created in this instance, the status quo is simply being packaged differently.
After Colin Kaepernick’s protest and free agency at the end of the 2016 season, the Player’s Coalition was founded by former NFL wide receiver Anquan Boldin and Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins. The idea was to have a platform where the issues Kaepernick referenced in his protests would specifically receive NFL support. The Player’s Coalition, in conjunction with the NFL, would go on to create the Inspire Change initiative.
Very little has been disclosed about the Player’s Coalition and how talks with the NFL have gone in terms of creating “actionable” progress set to follow the on-field demonstrations many players took. Former Player’s Coalition member and teammate of Kaepernick’s in San Francisco, Eric Reid, shared a glimpse into what this movement was like:
As Reid expresses, the grant matching element of Inspire Change featured insurmountable odds in the restrictions levied on how the players could contribute. The social justice angle of Jay-Z’s deal is in regards to this program.
In a nutshell, Jay-Z’s role will include:
- Songs of the Season
- Five artists selected by Roc Nation will create NFL promo songs that will also be posted on streaming services. These artists will come together at the NFL’s Pro Bowl to perform.
- Beyond the Field
- A platform consisting of NFL teams and players working with musical artists to “curate the richness of football culture” via podcasts, playlists and other mediums.
- Super Bowl Halftime Show
- This event will now be curated and co-produced by Jay-Z and Roc Nation culminating in a “live visual album” of the performance
The proceeds from the halftime show album along with the output of Songs of the Season will now go towards funding Inspire Change.
Naturally, there’s a lot to be explained on Carter’s end particularly coming off lyrics from Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s single Apeshit: “I said no to the Super Bowl: you need me, I don’t need you”. This article’s thumbnail photo depicts Carter sporting a custom-made Kaepernick jersey at a Saturday Night Live performance. For someone seemingly pro-Kaepernick and anti-NFL how did we get to, what appears to be, the other side of the road?
In addition to stating, “I think we’ve moved past kneeling” the 22-time Grammy winner had the following to say in defense of the partnership:
To take it back, I think that we forget that Colin’s whole thing was to bring attention to social injustice, correct? In that case, this is a success. This is the next thing. There’s two parts to the protest: With regards to how you protest, and then the company or the individuals say, ‘I hear you. What do we do next?’ So for me, this is action.
Jay-Z’s quote references Inspire Change, essentially equating success to its formation. The label this action as so is to go against Reid’s account of the group, something the rapper can not possibly know unless this is language from the league’s perspective. Is it not weird that the man who was wearing the jersey in support of Kaepernick doesn’t have the former quarterback’s blessing in a partnership that is supposed to be social justice based?
As a show of faith on Carter’s side in trusting an organization accused of blackballing an athlete that has protested social injustice and police brutality, would one not inquire about Kaepernick’s employment prospects? In understanding the code Jay-Z has been known by, it simply doesn’t seem like him to have entered a partnership that has a history of actively stifling the culture.
The concern is not so much that Carter has turned heel. Jemele Hill of the Atlantic says as much in her article of how Jay-Z has previously spoken on the war on drugs and its impact on Black and Latinos, executive-produced a BET documentary on Trayvon Martin, created a miniseries about the plight of Kalief Browder and oversaw a foundation that has given back and started many initiatives for people of color. Obviously this is someone that has built up a large amount of goodwill.
That goodwill though, is not enough for Carter to escape questions regarding his decision-making on partnering with the NFL. He is allowed to be ambitious with his goals in the deal but the NFL also has a reason to want Jay-Z on their side. If LeBron was able to characterize NFL owners as having a “slave owners mentality” then it is a stretch to believe this group has an admiration of his feats and accolades in music.
“He was the face of that request because of the goodwill he had built up as a known ally on the side of right.” Bomani Jones’ quote is made about Stephen Ross’ comments against the player protests, the goodwill referring to his founding of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality. Could the same quote not be said of Carter’s goodwill with the culture, hence explaining the NFL’s interest in him?
If you’re still not convinced about that try Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports’ recount via the New York Times of Buffalo Bills’ owner Terry Pegula’s remarks on what the NFL needed in the face of the PR storm the protests caused:
[Pegula] said it would be great for the league to find a compelling spokesman —preferably a player— to promote all of the good things they were doing together. ‘For years we’ve watched the National Rifle Association use Charlton Heston as a figurehead. We need a spokesman.’
In a conversation on Twitter not initially related to this partnership Bomani would go on to equate Jay-Z to The Wire’s Stringer Bell. It’s an apt comparison particularly as it relates to this news with the NFL. With that correlation in mind, this meeting between Stringer and the show’s main character could also be a warning to the Brooklyn rapper about the new company he finds himself in with the National Football League: