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.