WE’VE MOVED PAST KNEELING?

Attempts to de-legitimize Kaepernick through puppet Jay-Z pact will backfire

Hip-hop billionaire Jay-Z’s timing couldn’t have been worse as he announced a multi-year partnership between his company and the National Football League on the eve of NYPD Commissioner James P. Oneill’s firing of Daniel Pantaleo, the cop who choked to death Eric Garner whose chilling last words, “I can’t breathe,” became the rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Jay-Z and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the deal last week wherein the 49-year-old rapper will consult on halftime shows and work with the league’s so-called activism campaign, Inspire Change. And, if rumor proves true, Jay-Z will have an opportunity to own a NFL franchise someday in the not too distant future. Of course the white elephant of a question begging to be asked is how does this impact the protests and programs of BLM and exiled quarterback Colin Kaepernick? Does it empower or undermine their efforts?

The NFL and its tone deaf commissioner, Goodell, have come under intense criticism from many African American professional football players and social justice organizations after they tried  to interfere with Black players’ right to kneel in silent protest during the playing of the National Anthem. The players have said that they desire to call attention to police brutality and killings of young black and brown men and women. The U.S. president, in his usual racist and appealing to his white nationalist base manner, urged owners to fire the “son of bitches,” referring to the mostly black male players who were kneeling in ever increasing numbers.

For the first time in my lifetime, not withstanding that not all players participated, more professional players have kneeled in protest or at least expressed sympathetic statements in support of those who kneel than ever before in the history of professional football. All of this led to the benching, (then non-signing) of iconic Super Bowl quarterback Colin Kaepernick after the 2016 season. As Kaepernick’s reputation and legend grew, NFL owners became nervous and clearly colluded to ensure that the 6’5” Afro-bearded athlete would never wear a professional football uniform again.

That Jay-Z would get in bed with the NFL, an extremely violent organization that pimps the American military, exploits patriotism and extorts local governmental officials for taxpayer land deals, abatements and other gratuities, is bizarre in and of itself. But the fact that he would do this in a way that heaps shade upon Kaepernick, BLM members, and others fighting for social justice is all the more confusing. Kaepernick forfeited his career and millions in salary and endorsements to call attention to the problem of police violence and abuse against people of color. What has Jay-Z forfeited? Billionaires like Jay-Z after shielding as much of their money as possible from paying their fair share of taxes—all make charitable contributions. Beyond making these perfunctory contributions, what has Jay-Z stood for that inspires, compels, and sustains a political or social movement?

If Jay-Z really would have used his celebrity to do something meaningful, the outcome would have been more like: more African American coaches, a commitment to doing significant business with minority businesses, discounts and targets for attracting a percentage of minority owned NFL franchises, and—the deal breaking necessity of all—a job or major severance package for Colin Kaepernick. If Jay-Z’s partnership would have included a significant role for BLM and other community based efforts to stem the rise of police killings and brutality against unarmed citizens, he would not be facing the avalanche of ridicule and critique he justifiably deserves.

Once a generation a handful of public figures, entertainers or athletes answer the call to use their celebrity to benefit a cause larger than their bank accounts. In the 1950’s comedian Dick Gregory, actor/singer Harry Belafonte, and the charming “cat lady” Eartha Kitt aimed the light of their fame at the same discrimination and bigotry Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others gave their lives for. Before him Paul Robeson and Josephine Baker did the same. Afterwards Nina Simone, Mariam Makeba, Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder all followed suit. They all used their celebrity to raise funds to sustain social justice and civil rights organizations. They all took risks that cost them dearly.

In the history of sports, the best known athlete, worldwide, was Muhammad Ali. At the height of his career and youth, he was stripped of his boxing title when he refused to be inducted into the U.S. military because of his opposition to the Vietnam War and his conscientious objection, stating “No Viet Cong ever called me nigger.” The movements drew inspiration, visibility and funding from courageous stands taken by Ali, John Carlos, Tommy Smith, and others.

Jay-Z, attempting to justify his getting in bed with Goodell, is trying to cast his agreement with the NFL as being a natural outgrowth from the players’ protests, stating, “We’ve moved past kneeling.” Who’s “we?” Jay-Z. Who died and named you king Mr. Z? Some current players were more than right to call you out as a fraud, sell-out with no legitimacy to speak for those who are tired being commoditized, bullied, and treated like high paid minstrels who exist to entertain a mainly white and corporate clientele.

The African American community must hold accountable Jay-Z and others who attempt to pimp off the authentic sacrifices of others who left it all on the field. If you want to be of help, Mr. billionaire, the line forms at the rear. As we near 2020, we cannot continue to let the NFL and corporate interests continue to exploit our bodies—our sometimes broken but beautiful black bodies as they did when we were slaves. They cannot benefit, financially, from our God-given talents, then silence us and sell us down the river when we dare to speak our truths. We must say to the Jay-Zs and the Goodells alike—We are not for sale. Our leaders cannot be sacrificed for 30  pieces of silver. Our lives matter. And we won’t stop kneeling until those who slay our sons and daughters stop killing.

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