Sterling: Kneeling isn't dead, even if Jay-Z says so

Kaepernick and teammates kneeling during the national anthem as a form of protest. 

Rap and sports are undoubtedly the two shining stars of the pop culture universe. As the focal points of the entertainment world, rappers and athletes are often drawn to each other. Song lyrics about triple-doubles and touchdown runs in hip-hop are comparable to half-time shows and celebratory dances seen in sports. 

In recent years, sports has attracted a new partnership. Whether it involves kneeling or a Nike ad, activism is a major, controversial player in the sporting community. 

While athletic activism pioneers such as Muhammad Ali have maintained a strong presence in sports culture, the modern face of athletic activism is certainly Colin Kaepernick. Formerly known as a talented dual-threat quarterback often likened to Seattle Seahawks superstar Russell Wilson, Kaepernick is now committed to advancing a movement he helped initiate in 2016, when he first kneeled during the national anthem. Since the infamous kneeling movement created to highlight racial inequality in America began, Kaepernick’s football career has taken a significant hit, while his powerful message has been broadcast for all to hear on an international stage.

Kaepernick’s message is that he will not stand for an American flag that oppresses black people and other people of color. This has resonated with numerous musical artists, causing Kaepernick’s movement to permeate the hip-hop world. 

A premier face of hip-hop for decades, Shawn Carter, more commonly known as Jay-Z, holds a strong influence over the sporting community. The business mogul and superstar rapper was quick to publicly support Kaepernick in his mission for recognition and equality. While performing on Saturday Night Live, Jay-Z sported a Kaepernick jersey. In addition to this, Jay-Z also asked musical performers to boycott the 2019 Super Bowl halftime show due to the NFL’s treatment of Kaepernick and his cause.

Aside from publicly supporting Kaepernick, Jay-Z has been dedicated to promoting equality for people of color living in America. His vocal and financial powers have been utilized in the fight for the abolition of racial injustice. This is why it came as a total shock to the NFL community, fans and the general public when Jay-Z struck a music and social justice deal with the NFL—the same league that has been twisting and silencing Kaepernick’s message since he first began taking a knee. 

Less than one year ago, Jay-Z was asking performers to avoid the Super Bowl halftime show because of the injustices perpetrated by the NFL. Just a few months later, Jay-Z has seemingly sided with the enemy and will make substantial money to add to his billion-dollar bank account in the process. This is the same NFL that colluded to keep Kaepernick out of its league, costing the quarterback millions in future earnings that a non-activist player (or a white player) would likely receive. To make matters worse for Kaepernick and his NFL peers that share his beliefs, Jay-Z recently stated, “I think we’ve moved past kneeling. It’s time for action.”

It is incredibly unjust for anyone other than Kaepernick and his kneeling peers to decide that we’re suddenly done with this form of protesting. Why does Jay-Z get to be the new face of social justice in the NFL when he sacrificed far less than activists like Kaepernick to advance the movement to where it is today? Jay-Z has certainly made positive contributions to similar causes in the past, but this business move ultimately causes additional harm to a movement led by people making genuine sacrifices. Anytime an NFL player is brave enough to take a knee in front of millions of potential critics,including Donald Trump, they risk their career, endorsement deals, death threats and more unwarranted hate from outsiders. 

The NFL has continued to resist providing validity to Kaepernick’s message since its initial iteration in 2016. Moreover, the NFL has prevented social change by disregarding the legitimate concerns of their players, and have welcomed hatred from ‘fans’ that misinterpret the message. By partnering with the NFL, Jay-Z does have a chance to influence change from the inside. But doing so will come at the cost of ignoring the sacrifices made by those who jump-started the movement in the first place, while simultaneously making millions. The NFL’s true social justice laborers receive nothing while Jay-Z and Roc Nation strike a lavish business deal. This is a slap in the face to Kaepernick, and a win for a football league resistant to change. This story is yet another example of hard-working activists being silenced while systemic racism continues to thrive in America’s most powerful structures. 

Even if Jay-Z truly wants change for the NFL, this deal is a monumental step backward. Jay-Z gets to reap the benefits of Kaepernick and Co.’s labor while expanding his business empire and supporting the harmful industries that continue racial oppression in this country.