Social Justice, the NFL, Jay-Z and Capitalism. One of These is Not Like the Other.
Ok, let’s talk about it…
Now that we’ve had some time to settle a bit and collect ourselves, let’s look at this NFL and Jay-Z situation from a broader perspective.
First, let's address the individual, Jay-Z. His recent partnership with the NFL flies in the face of everything his fans, and anyone who’s listened to his lyrics in the past few years would expect from the billionaire, hip-hop mogul. Shawn Carter, the businessman, has every right to make choices about what organizations and with whom he partners to advance his capital interests. Jay-Z, the business, man, however is certainly going to have to deal with the consequences and repercussions of his seemingly hypocritical behavior, even if he believes the best way to change a system is from within.
As some would suggest, this deal is an attempt to marry the NFL’s recent social justice efforts with a formidable ally that will propel the organization’s racial antagonism into the annuls of history. The problem is that Jay-Z, no matter what his title is or how much money the NFL pays him, or how much of that money he in-turn invests back into the NFL to become a part owner of any team, will NEVER convince Jerry Jones, or Bob McNair, or Robert Kraft to come on over to the side of justice and equality. Even if the owners were to have a sit down with the hood-entrepreneur turned rapper turned legally taxed entrepreneur, the odds of his impact being at all significant are slim to nil. Considering the amount of capital (over $7.5 million) several of the franchise owners have contributed to #45’s inauguration and election efforts, Jay-Z’s new position as Live Music Entertainment Strategist will likely resemble that of Damon Wayans’s character in Bamboozled.
This situation certainly isn’t the fault of Mr. Carter, or quite frankly, anything that he should be held responsible for, however, we have to be honest about the likelihood of dramatic cultural change, within and outside of the NFL, that Jay-Z is going to effect by partnering with Roger Goodell. It would nice to believe, and in reality we should be hopefully optimistic, that this new partnership is going to be akin to the Oracle and the Architect overseeing peace at the conclusion of the Matrix trilogy. But history, and the present, should force us to expect the future to be no different, especially if the steps toward a more socially just future exclude those with the most forceful voices. Colin Kaepernick’s and Eric Reid’s responses are a fervent reminder that conversations around social justice are not to be had in a vacuum or closed board room unless they center the voices of those most impacted by the traumas. Jay-Z never lost a dime or even a second of his time, wondering if he was going to lose his professional career for using his platform to advocate for social justice. That is a luxury and remains unaffordable to anyone and everyone who has to worry about where their next meal is going to come from or how their rent is going to be paid.
Kaepernick’s sacrifice cannot be under stated. Similar to that of Ali in the 60’s, he has trained and trained and trained since he was a child to become one of the best quarterback’s in the league, only to be sidelined and watch statistically worse colleagues secure multi-million dollar contracts. That Kaepernick received a settlement for his treatment by the league, should not sway anyone from his cause, because the compensation he did receive likely pails in comparison to what Jay-Z is receiving, and is far less than what the NFL actually owes the Black and Latinx players and coaches for years of racial discrimination and workplace harassment.
So with all that being said, remember, this isn’t Jay-Z’s fault, nor is it his responsibility to correct. He is a capitalist and makes every effort to win the game of capitalism by employing its most historic maneuvers. But the biggest problem with all of this is that while Jay-Z may be in a position to have conversations around social justice and what the NFL can do to be less racist, not one single conversation that Jay-Z is going to have will center around dismantling the National Football League, and encouraging the end of the sport of Football in the larger context. Trying to rid the NFL of racism is about has effective as trying to shit out of a baby's diaper. JUST THROW THE WHOLE THING AWAY!
And this brings us to the larger conversation that involves ALL of us. Football has got to go. It’s time...
The sport has had its day, and we now know that it causes brain damage. While football is not the only sport that in some way centers around repeated blows to the head, it is certainly one of the most ubiquitous and celebrated sports in America. From pee-wee leagues, to high school stadiums that cost more than some inner-city schools, America has a deep-seeded love affair with a sport that injures and kills so many. Many people in America use sports as a means of acquiring scholarships and securing advanced education, and because so few are expected to become professional athletes, it is imperative that student-athletes maintain as much of their cognitive function as possible. And this simply is not possible in the sport of football. Even playing just one season of football can have devastating impacts on brain development. America is already a violent, racist, ignorant society (Sorry to be so harsh, but it’s mostly because our education system sucks, but we can talk about that later.), and on top of that we don’t encourage mental healthcare to the degree we should, and thus struggle with our emotional competence and intra and interpersonal relationships. Players are coming forward now, more than ever, about their mental health struggles and the cognitive and emotional challenges they experience as a result of years of living the sport.
So, now we have to ask ourselves, why? Not just, why does this sport still exist? But, why do we still support and encourage its existence? Jay-Z and Roger Goodell are obviously not going to make an effort to ensure that football players of all ages have the mental health care they need. That would require an enormous shift in priorities and the NFL, its capitalistic owners and investors, and the American people just aren’t ready.
Or are we?