There can be absolutely no question about the tremendous talent, unrivaled body of work, and the financial success of Shawn Carter, better known as the rapper Jay-Z. But now that he’s taken his leadership into the area of re-branding the National Football League as a beacon of social justice, he has gotten in over his head, in my opinion.
Professional football is an immensely popular form of entrainment. Jay-Z knows popular entrainment. He is recognized as one of the most significant cultural icons in global pop culture for the past two decades. And with his super-superstar wife Beyoncé by his side, he is a powerful force to be reckoned with.
The power entertainment couple met with the British Royals, he is pals with former President Barack Obama, and he used to be pals with the former 2013 Super Bowl quarterback Kaepernick, who ruined his own athletic career by kneeling during the national anthem, to stand up against police brutality against Black folks in the USA.
Understand, big league professional sports are just about the only chances to see any kind of unscripted, live action on national television. That’s big. Those contests are decided (except for a few with bad officiating) by the athletes on identical fields, playing by the same rules, for defined periods of time. We can watch the meritocracy of sports played out right before our eyes, with no filters or censors. That’s a good thing.
But this athletic business is physically dangerous, with about 6 percent of high school athletes who play NCAA college football ever making it to the NFL (sportswriters sometimes say NFL really stands for Not For Long). There’s all that brain damage that occurs along the way, especially for those who make it to the big league. That’s not such a good thing.
Then, that 94 percent of the student athletes who never make it to the NFL also mostly don’t get the benefit of attending college, because mostly all they’ve done since childhood is play sports, not concentrate on getting an education.
So here comes Colin Kaepernick. He starts kneeling during the national anthem (as Black and white athletes have done on occasion for decades before), and the stuff hits the fan. The president curses Kaepernick and other athletes concerned about police brutality. Kaepernick is cruelly fired, not because he is a poor player, but because he must be made an example of so other Black athletes don’t get uppity, and try to protest, forgetting that they are highly paid employees whose bosses make the rules.
This pastime is made up of 80 percent of Black players. It is a pastime that has been losing popularity over the last several years because Kaepernick exposed the racist core of team ownership and management. It is a pastime which has now got a highly popular Black dude with a super popular wife/performer to once again attract Black viewers back to the game, and popular performers back to the Super Bowl halftime show.
That is where Jay-Z sold out. He’s now promised to get a chance to buy an NFL team, like having a Black owner will curb the enthusiasm of a bunch of his soon-to-be-owner-brothers to host $100,000-a-plate fundraisers in the Hamptons for Donald J. Trump. Like having a Black owner will stop owners from bad mouthing players who protest, and threatening those who might protest with termination.
And what did the Black community get in Jay-Z’s deal? An excuse to once again spend guilt-free time watching the sporting contests, that’s what. And what did the architect of this scheme get? He gets a chance to give those robber barons a huge pile of his money, so he can sit up in an owner’s box and pass out cigars, and feel important and attend meetings of The Owners Club.
He also gets a chance/contract to invite his pals in the entertainment industry to once again, perform for these crooked owners, without any guilt.
That’s a win-win for the owners and a fat paycheck for Jay-Z, but nothing for the Bruthas in da Hood. All this without so much as a phone call or even a text from the busy rapper to Kaepernick, the guy he used to call a “friend,” and who could have been offered a chance to be a trainer, or a scout, or to do something with his enormous talent in the area he’s dedicated his life to, if Jay-Z had asked for it. But not a phone call, according to a Twitter comment from Kaepernick’s girlfriend Nessa Diab, a New York-based host and media personality for Radio One.
That is the textbook definition of a betrayal by a so-called friend. That is the textbook definition of a sellout!
What’s painful to me is that so many people who love the artist are willing to permit him to sell them out. And they get really upset with anyone like me who calls Jay-Z’s spade a spade. A sellout.
It all reminds me of what my friend Al Johnson, the PR executive in Chicago used to say in the 1970s, and it’s clear to me today: “All the successful Negroes have been bought. All the rest are still for sale.”