Jay-Z Details Social Justice NFL Partnership & How Colin Kaepernick Sparked Change: 'This Is a Success'

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Roc Nation
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Jay Z at the Roc Nation and NFL Partnership Announcement at Roc Nation on Aug. 14, 2019 in New York City.

"Colin’s whole thing was to bring attention to social injustice."

Through a landmark music and social justice partnership between the NFL and his Roc Nation company -- which includes new original music, podcasts and documentaries -- Jay-Z hopes to move issues that players like Colin Kaepernick have expressed on the field to action.

At a press conference in New York on Wednesday (Aug. 14), the music mogul and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell together shared details about the long-term partnership and the eight months of conversations it took to seal the deal. The announcement comes amid years of controversy surrounding the NFL, where many players have sat or knelt during the National Anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality.

Most outspoken of all has been former 49ers quarterback Kaepernick, who many believe was effectively “blacklisted” from the NFL as a result. 

“We forget that Colin’s whole thing was to bring attention to social injustice,” Jay-Z said of the quarterback-turned-activist. “In that case, this is a success. There’s two parts of protesting: You go outside and you protest, and then the company says, ‘I hear you. What do we do next?’”

"So for me it was like, action, actionable item, what are we going to do with it?" he continued. "Everyone heard and we hear what you’re saying, and everybody knows I agree with what you’re saying ... and all we get stuck on [is] Colin not having a job.”

The partnership positions Jay and Roc Nation as the NFL’s "live music entertainment strategist," meaning they will consult the league on entertainment, including its Super Bowl halftime show, and contribute to the NFL’s Inspire Change social justice campaign. Together, the new partners have identified three priorities: Education and economic advancement, improving police and community relations and criminal justice reform.

In addition to curating and co-producing the Super Bowl halftime show, Roc Nation will select five artists to create a motivational “Song of the Season,” proceeds from which will go toward Inspire Change grant recipients chosen by the artists themselves, and culminating in a Pro Bowl concert. Each of the five artists will also be the focus of an individual documentary. 

The partners will additionally work with artists and players on a “Behind the Field” initiative across all streaming services, which includes original music, player and artist podcasts and official NFL playlists. All artist performances from the 2019-2020 season will be considered for an upcoming live audio and visual album, where streaming revenue from national anthem performances specifically will go toward culture- and cause-focused initiatives.

Talks that led to the partnership began back in January.

“It was a lot of very frank conversation,” Goodell said at the press conference. “The number one thing that we went to was impact. We can have an impact together. We can do some really positive things in our community. To get to Jay's point, we listened to our players. We understood what our players were saying and we created a platform, in which to help drive change in communities that Colin has raised and that other players have raised." 

Jay-Z cut in: “The first thing I said to Roger was, ‘If this is about me performing in the Super Bowl, we can just end this conversation now.’ It has to be a bigger platform than that.”

Rihanna, Cardi B, and others reportedly turned down offers to perform at the Super Bowl LII in February -- in Everything Is Love single “Apeshit,” Jay memorably rapped, "I said no to the Super Bowl / You need me, I don't need you." 

“If I’m in a position where the level of respect I’m earning as an artist is being compromised, I’m going to speak about it 10 times out of 10,” Jay said about turning down a halftime show offer. “Like everything else, [the partnership] slowly evolved as a conversation.”

He added that he found last year’s halftime show selection process “fractured,” because four artists would be interviewed simultaneously for the slot, each believing he or she was the top pick. 

The conversation shifted several times back to Kaepernick, who Jay-Z said he spoke with personally about the initiative, though he would not divulge details. Asked point-blank if he wants NFL players to stop protesting on the field, Goodell remarked, “I want them to take what they’re protesting about and go make a change.”

For now, Jay said he has begun speaking with several artists about potentially aligning with the campaign. While he wouldn't speak on exactly who, he said the response has been positive. "We wanted to have this discussion first, but we've identified artists," he said. "I think tomorrow, we'll really start moving forward."


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