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Jay-Z, NFL Commissioner Discuss Partnership, Say They’ve Spoken With Colin Kaepernick

UPDATED: Jay-Z and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell gathered with reporters for a press conference at Roc Nation’s New York offices on Wednesday to discuss their new entertainment and social-awareness partnership, which was revealed yesterday after news leaked.

While the conference was generally genial, at times the exchanges between the two and reporters became a bit contentious with regard to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose controversial symbolic kneeling during the National Anthem to protest racial inequality in the U.S. has essentially seen him drummed out of the league.

Jay and Goodell said that they both have had conversations with Kaepernick, but declined to reveal any details about those conversations, or what his stance on the partnership may be.

“I would never tell you what me and Kap’s private conversation was about,” Jay said, “but we spoke, yeah.”

The reporter followed up, asking whether Kaepernick was supportive. “I would never tell you about that conversation,” Jay repeated, with the remainder of his response drowned out by laughter from the reporters in the room.

Asked whether they plan to involve Kaepernick in the partnership, Jay said, “You’ll have to ask him, I’m not his boss. That’s for him to say.”

Earlier, asked how he could enter into this partnership while Kaepernick remains without a team, Jay said, “I think that we forget that Colin’s whole thing was to bring attention to social injustice so in that case this is a success — this is the next thing. There’s two parts of protest: the protest, and then there’s a company or individual saying ‘I hear you, what do we do next?’ For me it’s about actionable items, what are we gonna do about it? We get stuck on Colin not having a job, you know what I’m saying? And this is more than that.

“I support any protest that’s effective,” he continued. “I’m into action, I’m into real work — I’m not into how it looks from the outside. If protesting on the field is the most effective way, then protest on the field. But if you have a vehicle that can inspire change and speak to the masses at the same time, it’s hard to steal the narrative away.”

Asked if Kaepernick has been blackballed, Goodell said that “any team” can sign him.

When Jay was asked whether he views the partnership as a form of protest and an opportunity to change from within, he said, “Of course, yes.” But pressed for details later, he said, “America in general looked at rap as a fad, and it’s the number one genre in the world, you just can’t hide the statistics now because of streaming. But in 1998 rap was the no. 1 genre going forward to today, so I would love for these platforms to be more inclusive of our music.”

Jay became borderline defensive when asked by a reporter, “I’m sorry to put it this way, but if the National Anthem were playing, would you kneel or stand?”

Jay asked for the question to be repeated, blinked incredulously for a moment, and then said, “I think we’re past kneeling. I think it’s time for action.”

Asked in a follow-up whether he wanted people to stop protesting, Jay fired back, “No, I don’t want people to stop protesting at all. Kneeling is a form of protest. We need to bring light to the issue, I think everyone knows what the issue is” — he asked several people around the table, “Do you know what the issue is?,” then returned to his point. “We all know the issue now — okay, next?

“To be clear to the room,” he concluded, “I’m not minimizing that part of it, that’s a necessary part of the process. But now we all know what’s going on: The kneeling was not about Colin having a job, it was about ‘let me bring attention to injustice.’ Now how do we address that injustice? What’s the way forward?”

A reporter also asked Jay whether he’d attempted to talk Travis Scott out of performing with Maroon 5 this year, as Variety exclusively reported. He said that he did, but said the issue was not about Kaepernick, but rather that he “didn’t see [Scott] playing second fiddle to anyone” after the “monster year” that he’d had with his successful album and singles.

Jay also brought up Adam Levine’s involvement in the partnership, but stopped short of providing details, saying only that they’d met to discuss the controversial performance by Levine’s group, Maroon 5, during this year’s halftime show.

Jay said he will not be performing at the Super Bowl halftime show, “not this year.”

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. While the press conference revealed details about how the entertainment partnership will work, including “Songs of the Season,” for which five artists from all different labels will record songs for NFL promotional spots and for which the artists will perform at a Pro Bowl concert; and an area on all streaming services where NFL-sponsored live performances, podcasts and playlists will be hosted.

Jay and Goodell were less specific about the organizations that will benefit from the social-change aspect of the partnership, nodding to the ones Inspire Change already has in place, and said new ones would be announced in the future.

A rep for Roc Nation noted that the artists will be selected from all “major and independent” labels, and not just Roc Nation affiliated ones.

Super Bowl halftime sponsor Pepsi was quick to applaud the partnership, issuing a statement shortly after the official announcement went out on Wednesday. “As a proud partner of the National Football League for more than 17 years and partner of the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show, we are excited to collaborate with Roc Nation, Jay-Z, and the NFL to deliver unforgettable music and entertainment experiences celebrating top talent in the musical industry and most importantly, the fans,” it reads.

While Kaepernick did not comment directly on the deal, he did tweet what may be a veiled reference to it a couple of hours after the press conference: “Today marks the three year anniversary of the first time I protested systemic oppression. I continue to work and stand with the people in our fight for liberation, despite those who are trying to erase the movement! The movement has always lived with the people!”

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