×

Jay-Z Joins Forces With N.F.L. for Music and Social Justice Campaign

The N.F.L., which has been lambasted with criticism over its treatment of Colin Kaepernick and other players kneeling during the national anthem, today made a major stride toward image rehabilitation when news broke that the organization has signed a deal with Jay-Z that will encompass entertainment and social justice efforts.

According to the New York Times, the deal with Roc Nation, Jay-Z’s entertainment and sports company, calls for the firm to be the N.F.L.’s “live music entertainment strategist,” which will entail Roc Nation and Jay-Z consulting on entertainment, including the Super Bowl halftime show, and contributing to the league’s activism campaign, Inspire Change.

“The N.F.L. has a great big platform, and it has to be all-inclusive,” Jay-Z said in an interview this week. “They were willing to do some things, to make some changes, that we can do some good.” Reps for Roc Nation did not immediately respond to Variety‘s request for further comment.

The move marks a turn for Jay, who criticized the N.F.L. in the past and admitted in his song with Beyonce “Apesh—“ that he had turned down offers to perform during the Super Bowl, telling the league during the song, “You need me, I don’t need you/ Every night we in the end zone, tell the NFL we in stadiums too.”

At a Miami concert in 2017, Jay told the audience,  “I want y’all to understand, when people are kneeling and putting their fists up in the air and doing what they’re doing, it’s not about the flag, it’s about justice. It’s about injustice. And that’s not a black or white thing, it’s a human issue.” Sources also said that Jay tried to talk Travis Scott out of performing with Maroon 5 during this year’s halftime show; the group struggled to find black artists to perform with them during their halftime show, and ultimately were joined by Scott and Outkast rapper Big Boi.

The league and its team owners have effectively shut Kaepernick out since the 2016 season, when he began kneeling during the National Anthem to protest the treatment of African-Americans by police and other authorities.

The deal was scheduled to be announced on Wednesday morning, but was leaked by the Front Office Sports website.

N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell told the Times that the league wants partners who tell it when it behaves improperly.

“We don’t want people to come in and necessarily agree with us; we want people to come in and tell us what we can do better,” Goodell said. “I think that’s a core element of our relationship between the two organizations, and with Jay and I personally.”

The Kaepernick issue has divided the league, entertainers and much of American society.

In 2017, the league negotiated a deal with a group of players that included contributing as much as $89 million over six years to social justice causes that the players would choose. That campaign, which was renamed Inspire Change in January, donates money to groups fighting for criminal justice reform, opportunities in economically challenged areas and better relations between the police and local communities.

While the partnership gives Jay-Z a role in selecting and producing the country’s most-watched music performance — the 12-minute Super Bowl halftime show is seen by more than 100 million people each year — it also brings the risk of being seen as co-opted and neutralized by an organization he once criticized.

One of the most prominent champions of Kaepernick’s cause, Jay-Z once called him “an iconic figure” akin to Muhammad Ali, and wore a custom version of Kaepernick’s jersey when he performed on “Saturday Night Live” in 2017.

 

Popular on Variety

More Music

  • Depeche Mode - Dave GahanLes Vieilles

    Depeche Mode Documentary Gets One-Night Theatrical Release

    Depeche Mode has reunited with the group’s long-time filmographer, Anton Corbjn, for a combination documentary/concert film, “Spirits in the Forest,” which Trafalgar Releasing has announced it will put on approximately 2400 screens worldwide for one night Nov. 21. The film documents performance footage from the Berlin dates of Depeche Mode’s 115-gig Global Spirit Tour of [...]

  • Patti SmithVariety's 10 Storytellers to Watch

    Patti Smith Talks Biopics, Beats and Losing Her Cool in Front of Bob Dylan

    On Thursday afternoon Variety partnered with IFP for the first “10 Storytellers to Watch” event, and among the novelists, lyricists, podcasters, playwrights, graphic novelists and brand storytellers who were honored was the pioneering singer, poet and author Patti Smith. The legendary artist received the Impact in Storytelling honor not only for her formidable body of [...]

  • Leaving Neverland HBO

    Judge Sides With Michael Jackson Estate in 'Leaving Neverland' Dispute

    A federal judge is leaning towards granting the Michael Jackson estate’s move to take HBO to arbitration in its dispute over the documentary “Leaving Neverland.” Judge George Wu issued a tentative ruling on Thursday in which he denied HBO’s motion to dismiss the estate’s case. Wu is expected to make the ruling final by the [...]

  • Chuck Dauphin receives the CMA Media

    Country Music Journalist Chuck Dauphin Dies at 45

    Chuck Dauphin, the undisputed sweetheart of country music journalism, died Wednesday night at 45. Dauphin was the rare journalist who could claim the title “CMA Award winner.” The Country Music Association bestowed him with its CMA Media Achievement Award backstage during a lull in the telecast in 2014. A writer and radio personality who was [...]

  • JOHNNY CASH, with BOB DYLAN, c.

    Bob Dylan to Release Country-Themed Box Set, ‘Travelin’ Thru, 1967-69,’ Featuring Johnny Cash

    Columbia Records and Sony catalog division Legacy Recordings will release the boxed set “Bob Dylan (featuring Johnny Cash) – Travelin’ Thru, 1967 – 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 15” on Nov. 1. The set collects previously unreleased recordings from Dylan’s country-themed albums of the era, focusing on previously unavailable recordings made with Johnny Cash and unreleased [...]

  • Hailee Steinfeld photographed by Art Streiber

    Hailee Steinfeld Drops New Song From Apple TV Series ‘Dickinson’

    Oscar-nominated actress and singer Hailee Steinfeld dropped a new song on Thursday, “Afterlife (Dickinson)” from the upcoming Apple TV+ series “Dickinson,” in which she stars and serves as an executive producer. According to the announcement, Steinfeld drew lyrical inspiration from her character, Emily Dickinson, and the themes and ideas in many of her literary works. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content