Jay-Z has made no secret of his solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who kicked off a nationwide controversy by sitting or kneeling during the national anthem. Which is why the latest news about the rapper, music mogul, and “business, man” is something of a strange development.
The NFL has signed a deal with Jay-Z’s entertainment and sports company, Roc Nation, setting the company as the league’s “live music entertainment strategist.” Jay-Z and Roc Nation will consult on entertainment, including the Super Bowl halftime show, and contribute to the NFL’s activism initiative, Inspire Change.
It’s unclear for the moment what the outcome of this partnership will actually look like. More details will likely be revealed Wednesday, when the NFL will officially announce the deal. What is clear is that the move represents an attempt to address the multiyear controversy over the league’s handling of Kaepernick and other players’ protests. Notably, the NFL faced difficulty recruiting artists to perform at the most recent Super Bowl.
“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,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told The New York Times. “I think that’s a core element of our relationship between the two organizations, and with Jay and I personally.”
In 2016, Kaepernick began sitting or kneeling during the national anthem, which he said was intended to protest police brutality and racial discrimination. Other players followed suit, drawing both support and criticism across the political spectrum. Kaepernick left the 49ers at the end of the season but was never signed by another team, leading to accusations that the NFL was blackballing him. He later filed a grievance against the league, which he withdrew in February after a confidential settlement.
The NFL has taken prior steps to address criticism of its actions. 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 chosen by the players. That campaign evolved into Inspire Change, announced in January, which donates to groups advocating for criminal justice reform, improving police-community relations, and opportunities for education and economic advancement.
Jay-Z has been supportive of Kaepernick, wearing a version of his jersey during a Saturday Night Live performance and refusing offers to perform at the Super Bowl. (“I said no to the Super Bowl: you need me, I don’t need you,” he rapped on the song “Apesh—” in 2018.) Securing a partnership with him therefore represents a major coup for the league.
“The NFL has a great big platform, and it has to be all-inclusive,” Jay-Z said in a Times interview. “They were willing to do some things, to make some changes, that we can do some good.”