JAY-Z Has Gotten The NFL To Commit $100 Million To Criminal Justice Reform

Last August, JAY-Z and Roc Nation partnered with the National Football League. The result of the agreement gave Jay and his company input into the annual Super Bowl Halftime Show and other music events surrounding the league. Additionally, it gave Jay and Roc Nation a stake in “Inspire Change,” a league initiative for economic and social advancement, police relations, community relations, and criminal justice reform. To these dedicated areas of improvement, the league set aside $100 million over the next 10 years.

In recent years, the NFL had been under fire for the treatment of its players and some community relations. As a result of the partnership, Jay was publicly criticized for aligning with the league at the same time Colin Kaepernick (who reached an undisclosed settlement for a claim of NFL owners colluding against him one year ago) did not have a job. Jay, a previous public supporter of Kaepernick, came under fire. Former ESPN host-turned-Atlantic staff writer Jemele Hill penned an editorial, “JAY-Z Helped The NFL Banish Colin Kaepernick,” days after the partnership. Others with platforms also condemned one of Hip-Hop’s most beloved leaders, including accusing him of capitalizing on the rift between the NFL and oppressed people.

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Three months later, in mid-November, the league arranged a workout for Colin Kaepernick. Sources close to the situation credited Jay and Roc Nation in meeting the two parties. However, Kaepernick was not signed following the event.

Tomorrow (February 2), marks Super Bowl Sunday. Amid the Kansas City Chiefs playing the San Francisco 49ers in Miami, Florida, a Roc Nation client, Shakira, will perform at halftime.

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Less than 48 hours before the championship game, JAY-Z spoke to The New York Times’ Katherine Rosman in a profile of the situation, the origins of the partnership, and Roc Nation’s many social initiatives and company divisions. Jay also faced his criticism head-on.

On the music partnership, Jay recalls being invited to perform at the Pepsi-sponsored halftime event. However, a request to play “Run This Town” included the suggestion that Jay would supply song collaborators Kanye West and Rihanna. As the conversation grew bitter, Jay declined the concert offer.

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In 2019, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft reached out to Jay on behalf of the league. To the Times, Jay recalls telling the mogul (and friend of Meek Mill), “The problem with the NFL is you all think Hip-Hop is still a fad when Hip-Hop has been the dominant music form around the world for 20 years.” Inroads were made. A meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell followed. In August, the partnership went public. In the months since, music curated by Roc Nation has been used by the league. This included Royce 5’9’s politically-charged “Black Savage,” featuring T.I., CyHi The Prynce, Sy Ari Da Kid, and White Gold, which played in ads and during broadcasts.

In the article, Jay confronts his criticism in several places. He reminds them of his cause. “As long as real people are being hurt and marginalized and losing family members, then yes, I can take a couple rounds of negative press.” Team Roc, one of the companies divisions, has been working at fighting injustice on many levels. Last month, that included legal support and public awareness of Mississippi poor prison conditions that have allegedly been responsible for multiple fatalities. Jay and his team have challenged the bail bond industry by paying for the release of incarcerated fathers while condemning many of the criminal reform measures currently in place. Films have been produced surrounding the lives and deaths of Trayvon Martin and Kalief Browder. The arm has paid legal fees for various parties that they feel are being wrongfully oppressed.

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Juan Perez, known through Jay lyrics as “O.G. Juan,” told the newspaper, “Somebody has to kick in the door and get shot first. We’re that company. We’re not afraid. We’ve been doing it our whole lives.” Perez is the president of Roc Nation Sports.

JAY-Z says that money was never the objective of the partnership. He also responded specifically to Colin Kaepernick’s plight. “No one is saying [Colin Kaepernick] hasn’t been done wrong,” the 50-year-old Brooklyn, New Yorker said. “He was done wrong. I would understand if it was three months ago. But it was three years ago and someone needs to say, ‘What do we do now — because people are still dying?’”

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Neither Colin Kaepernick nor his lawyers wished to be interviewed for the Times‘ story.

Black people wrongfully dying at the hands of law enforcement is what led Kaepernick to take a knee during the National Anthem in the 2016 preseason. That act of protest continued throughout the year—and spawned others to follow. Based on the settled formal grievance, it is what kept Kaepernick off of all 32 NFL rosters in the years that have followed.

As Colin Kaepernick and the NFL are at odds, JAY-Z is working with those same forces. He believes that while the relationship with the league is quite different, they seek the same results. “We are two adult men who disagree on the tactic but are marching for the same cause,” JAY-Z said.