Jay-Z and NFL stage first concert despite Kaepernick backlash | Music | The Guardian

The first musical event to come from a partnership between Jay-Z and the NFL was staged in Chicago on Thursday, with the rapper facing a backlash over the league’s treatment of the activist and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Roc Nation, the company founded by Jay-Z, was announced in August as the “live music entertainment strategist” for the world’s richest sports league, which is beginning its new season this weekend. The opening game, between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, was preceded by a free concert featuring Meghan Trainor and rappers Meek Mill and Rapsody.

The deal includes support for community initiatives and input on selecting performers for one of the biggest gigs in the world, the Super Bowl half-time show. Critics have accused the music mogul, who last year rapped about saying “no to the Super Bowl”, of compromising his principles and damaging his standing as a social justice advocate by going into business with a league that appeared to ostracise the Kaepernick for sparking a protest movement against racism and police brutality.

“Now the NFL is ‘championing’ social justice to cover their own systemic oppression in blackballing Colin. So we will fight to get Colin’s job back as well,” Eric Reid, Kaepernick’s friend and former teammate, tweeted last month. “Jay-Z knowingly made a money move with the very people who have committed an injustice against Colin and is using social justice to smooth it over with the black community.” He told reporters the deal was “kind of despicable”.

Kaepernick began protesting in 2016 by sitting or kneeling when the national anthem was played before kick-off. Donald Trump, who has benefited from political donations made by at least nine current or former NFL owners, derided the actions as “disrespecting our flag and country”.

The former quarterback, 31, has not played since he became a free agent in 2017. Kaepernick and Reid, who now plays for the Carolina Panthers, reached a confidential settlement with the NFL in February after filing complaints that teams colluded to deny them jobs because of their activism.

Jay-Z – the first billionaire rapper, according to Forbes – has a history of supporting social justice causes. He told reporters he had spoken to Kaepernick about the deal but the conversation would remain private. He called Kaepernick an “iconic figure” on CNN last year and rapped in The Carters’ 2018 hit, Apeshit, “I said no to the Super Bowl / You need me, I don’t need you.”

His attitude appears to have softened. Sitting next to the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, at a press conference in New York last month, Jay-Z said: “I think we’ve moved past kneeling. I think it’s time to go on to actionable items … We get stuck on Colin not having a job, you know what I’m saying? And this is more than that.”

Goodell framed the deal as a way for the league to improve its outreach to minority communities. More than two-thirds of NFL players are black but none of the 32 teams have black-majority owners. News of the deal with Roc Nation has led to speculation that Jay-Z, who once had a stake in the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, is interested in becoming the NFL’s first black principal team owner.

“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. I think that’s a core element of our relationship between the two organisations and with Jay and I personally,” Goodell told the New York Times.

However the journalist, Bomani Jones, wrote in an essay for The Undefeated, an ESPN website: “While Jay’s support for Kaepernick was almost certainly genuine, he is in bed with Kap’s primary enemies, those who fought the hardest to silence him and his message.”

The half-time show at the most recent Super Bowl was performed by Maroon 5, after Rhianna and Cardi B reportedly turned down the gig in solidarity with Kaepernick amid calls by several celebrities for a boycott. The event was under even more scrutiny than usual because it took place in Atlanta, one of the country’s most important African American cultural hubs.

Kaepernick has not directly commented on the Jay-Z-NFL tie-up, though on 14 August, the same day as the news conference, he tweeted: “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!”