Rapper and businessman Jay-Z said a new partnership between his Roc Nation company and the NFL will bring attention to social justice issues and build on former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s activism.
The partnership, announced Tuesday, aims to “nurture and strengthen community through football and music, including through the NFL’s Inspire Change initiative,” according to NFL.com.
Roc Nation will help the NFL choose artists to perform at games, and will contribute to the league’s Inspire Change initiative, launched in early 2019, which supports “programs and initiatives that reduce barriers to opportunity, with a focus on three priority areas: education and economic advancement; police and community relations; and criminal justice reform.”
Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, told reporters Wednesday that he aims to draw attention to the same issues that Kaepernick was protesting when he sat or knelt during the National Anthem before several 2016 NFL preseason and regular-season games.
“I think we forget that Colin’s whole thing was to bring attention to social injustice,” Jay-Z said. “So, in that case, this is a success. This is the next thing.”
“If protesting on the field is the most effective way, then protest on the field,” he said. “But if you have a vehicle that can inspire change or you can speak to the masses and educate at the same time as well, tell people what’s going on, so people are not controlling your narrative, not telling you, ‘your protest is about this.’”
“I think we’ve passed kneeling. I think it’s time to go into our actionable items,” he added.
Fans and hip-hop stars have criticized the NFL over its perceived shunning of Kaepernick. He became a free agent in 2017 but has not been signed by a team since his protests. Kaepernick later filed a grievance against the league, accusing team owners of colluding to keep him from being signed. He and former teammate Eric Reid, who also kneeled with him, settled their grievances in February.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has denied the league’s team owners conspired to ensure that Kaepernick is not signed, saying, “Teams are making the best decision for what they need, as a football team.”
When asked by a reporter if he wanted people stop kneeling, Jay-Z said, “No. I don’t want people to stop protesting at all.”
“Kneeling – I don’t want to step on it because it’s a real thing, but, it’s a form of protest. I support protest across the board,” he said.
Jay-Z said he has spoken to Kaepernick but declined to discuss the details of the conversation.
Later on Wednesday, Kaepernick posted a Tweet marking the third anniversary of his on-field protest.
“Today marks the three year anniversary of the first time I protested systemic oppression,” he wrote. “I continue to work and stand with the people in our fight for liberation, despite those who are trying to erase the movement! The movement has always lived with the people!”
Last week, Kaepernick released a video saying he has been out of work for more than 800 days and was “still ready” to play professional football.
Jay-Z has previously called Kaepernick an “iconic figure” and said he would “100%” advise Kaepernick to do the same thing and stand against racism in this country, despite losing his job for it.
In a 2017 Saturday Night Live performance, Jay-Z wore a Kaepernick jersey. And in “Apesh*t,” a recent song with his wife, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, he rapped: “I said no to the Super Bowl. You need me. I don’t need you.”
The video showed a group of black men kneeling, an apparent sign of support for Kaepernick’s activism.
In an interview Tuesday at Roc Nation’s New York offices, Jay-Z told The Washington Post: “I think we have autonomy.”
“I anticipate that there will be a lot of – with any big organization, in this building right here we have internal problems,” the rapper and businessman told the paper. “Anything that’s new is going to go through its growing pains. We put what we want to do on the table. The NFL agreed to it. So we’re going to proceed with that as if we have a partnership.”
Goodell told reporters he and Jay-Z both expected their new relationship will have its critics.
“I’m not into how it looks,” Jay-Z said. “How it looks only lasts for a couple months until we really start doing the work.”
Reid, who protested with Kaepernick, seemed less than impressed by the announcement of the Roc Nation-NFL partnership.
Responding to a user who tweeted that it “seems kinda weird” that he would denounce such a venture while being employed by the Carolina Panthers, Reid replied that they were separate issues.
“You & some others seem to misunderstand that we had no beef with the NFL until they started perpetuating the systemic oppression that we are fighting by blackballing Colin and then me. Nah I won’t quit playing but I will be a royal pain in the NFL’s a** for acting like they care about people of color by forming numerous disingenuous partnerships to address social injustice while collectively blackballing Colin, the person who brought oppression and social injustice to the forefront of the NFL platform,” Reid said in a pair of tweets.
An attempt by CNN to contact representatives for Kaepernick was unsuccessful. The National Football League Players Association declined to comment.
Evan Simko-Bednarski reported and wrote from New York. Darran Simon wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Elizabeth Joseph, Deena Zaru, Eliott C. McLaughlin and Melissa Mahtani contributed to this report.