Jay-Z is a businessman. He may rap a bit as well, but from the off his singular focus on making money was what set him apart. He wasn’t goofing around or panting to be popular. He was working.
The rapper did some business with the NFL last week. In the process, he resuscitated the Colin Kaepernick mess and sent everyone to their battle stations.
The ensuing argument seems to boil down to someone not calling someone when they would have appreciated a head’s-up call first, though it’s not clear that second someone would have answered it. How do we know that? Because the second guy’s girlfriend said so.
(We may graduate from high school, but none of us really leave.)
Jay-Z and his Roc Nation imprint are now collaborating with the NFL on partnerships, the most significant of which is the Super Bowl halftime show.
The deal was announced during history’s most painfully relaxed news conference. Jay-Z and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sat together at a conference table, leaned back and swivelling side-to-side in their chairs. Jay-Z looked like a rock star. Goodell looked like a man channelling ‘Tucson dad takes the kids to a Jonas Brothers concert’.
Once the questions started, the mood shifted to low-grade panic. Rather than discussing all the money they planned to make together, there was instead a lot of defensive talk about social justice.
“This is a success. This is the next thing,” Jay-Z said. “There’s two parts to protesting. You go outside and you protest. And then the company or the individual says, ‘I hear you.’”
Upon hearing them, the company or the individual gives the protester a large contract to do concert promotion. Is that how it works?
TMZ reported that Jay-Z’s real payout is still to come – the opportunity to purchase an ownership stake in a yet-to-be-identified NFL franchise.
That is a licence to print money. It’s also entrée into the world’s most elite social club – capped at 32 members and they aren’t recruiting. I’ll let you decide which matters more.
Jay-Z was apparently taken by surprise when people didn’t applaud him on his way up into the Establishment. “Shocked” was the word used by sources (i.e. Jay-Z spokespeople) in a Wall Street Journal report. Sadly, that word “shocked” was not followed by “I tell you.”
Right-thinking America lined up to tell a man who built his artistic persona on being an arch-capitalist that his arch-capitalism was an abomination. Many things happening now are illustrative of our neighbour’s slow roll into mid-21st century irrelevance. This one may be the least consequential and, therefore, the most fun.
The really cutting criticisms were delivered by Kaepernick’s No. 2 in the player movement, Eric Reid. Reid called Jay-Z “despicable” and said he is “approaching” being “a sell-out” (whatever that means).
Reid is currently a corner back for the Carolina Panthers. He makes several million dollars a year in the NFL in exchange for his football services. It must be lovely to be able to play a revolutionary on TV while also collecting a seven-figure stipend from the ruling junta.
Though blackballed from the league, Kaepernick remains on a large retainer from Nike. The tagline of the ad campaign he fronts is, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Well, not everything.
Nike gives Kaepernick a lavish living. He gives them counterculture cover. It’s a sweet deal for both parties, as long as no one thinks too hard about it.
What we have here are the Lenins and Trotskys of modern sport, railing about what’s best for the common man while never stooping so low as to live like one. Everyone expects to make a buck as well as a point, which as best I recall was not the battle cry of the French Revolution.
All this shouting makes for good copy, very little of which is about the NFL and its shortcomings.
You have to give it to Goodell. A few months ago, it seemed as though he would never outrun the blowback from Kaepernick’s anthem-kneeling protest.
Nothing the league said in its own defence resonated. Doing a raft of community outreach didn’t help. Hiring Reid back didn’t shut him up.
Kaepernick’s Nike collaboration arrived like a body blow. The NFL’s main opponent now had a media platform as big as its own. The rebels were on the outskirts of the capital.
But Goodell finally found the right playbook. It was written by an Italian in the 16th century – “… it will always happen that, by exercising a little dexterity, the one will be able to divide the many, and weaken the force that was strong when it was united.”
Using a scheme drawn up by Machiavelli, the NFL has driven a wedge through the resistance. The story is no longer, “Greedy conglomerate doesn’t care about human wreckage.” It’s “Colin mad at Jay; What will Beyonce say?”
Jay-Z is a smart guy. Presumably, he did a pros and cons list before embarking on this course.
Con: I become the Benedict Arnold of the hipster left.
Pro: I become a shot caller.
Con: Colin Kaepernick hates me.
Pro: Colin Kaepernick doesn’t own anything.
Con: This move will catch the angry attention of the media-consuming public.
Pro: The media-consuming public has the attention span of a seven-year-old locked overnight in a candy factory.
Even if America is coming apart at the seams, it’s still America. The highest law of the land is get as much as you can for yourself. You can worry about sorting everyone else out once that’s taken care of. That appears to be Jay-Z’s approach.
If so, it’s no different than any of the robber barons who built the United States. This is the wheel of American history in motion.
In the meantime, everyone gets what they want. Jay-Z gets his payoff. Reid gets his pulpit. Kaepernick gets attention for the cause. The proles get another tabloid distraction from their real problems.
Behind them all is the unmoved mover who set the drama in motion. The NFL’s reward is a chance to relax while someone else soaks up its heat for a change. If the league is especially lucky, this is the outrage that finally exhausts everyone and they wander off to bite at the ankles of some other cultural monolith.
Who knew? If you’re working at a high enough level, peace of mind really is something money can buy.