99 Problems… Jay-Z

99 Problems… Jay-Z

The internet is crying foul after Jigga-jigga man, Jay Z decided to proceed with a multi-million dollar deal to NFL. For those of you that are unaware, the NFL has faced a significant amount of backlash over the past few years for its treatment of a talented American football player, Colin Kapernick. During 2016 season, Kapernick began to protest the treatment of blacks and people of colour in the USA by refusing to stand during the national, and followed this up by kneeling. 

Kapernick, stated “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.” Then… things got uglier for him. 

Since that season, having opted out of his contract for a better deal, Kapernick has failed to sign with another team. Over 900-days since he has worked. The reasons for this are believed to be because several of the teams have boycotted him as a result of his protest. The issue was hushed (slightly) when Kapernick signed an agreement with the NFL. That was until… 

Jay-Z signed an agreement with the NFL announcing that his firm, Roc Nation, will, as the NFL’s “official Live Music Entertainment Strategists” will “advise on the selection of artists for NFL tentpole performances” including the SuperBowl — the most-watched sports event in the USA. A major part of the deal is that Roc Nation, through music and other endeavours will “nurture and strengthen community” through music’ and the NFL’s Inspire Change initiative. Jay-Z reiterated this saying he hoped this “partnership [would]… strengthen the fabric of communities across America.” 

But, as my favourite Southern USA saying goes: somethin’ in the milk ain’t clean. There were early circulations that Jay-Z had allegedly strongly discouraged another musical titan, Jermaine Dupri, from signing a similar deal. Moreover, Jay-Z had been publicly critical of other artists working with the NFL and had penned songs about the protest. But, what irked most commentators was his failure to include Kapernick and other important parts of the protest. Essentially, he failed to give them a foot at the table working, suspiciously, behind their backs even as he continued to engage with Kapernick about his protest publicly. There are also rumours of the dealer acting as a precursor to Jay-Z’s ambitions of one day owning a sports team.

The deal is a good example of how not to deal with a public relations disaster: by creating seemingly hollow gestures to improve your corporate image. The NFL cannot rewrite racial injustice in the wider USA environment, but its failure to root out its own poor treatment of Kapernick illustrated some discongruity. How can a firm which cares about nurturing a community fail to tackle its own internal injustices (?) The NFL could have looked toward Edelman Trust Barometer 2019 (which ironically uses a Kapernick advert for Nike in its report on corporate trust) to avoid the charge of what Edelman terms ‘trustwashing’ — using social issues as a marketing ploy — by admitting its failures and addressing them openly.   

Moreover, though the use of influential figureheads to lead change is not new, the abundance and popularity of the term and business of influencers is a relatively new concept — primarily because of the growth of social media. It is now a much more mature and savvy arena. Jay-Z and Roc Nation are the influencers. But, their authenticity and influence is undone and easy to see-through as a result of the many disgruntled voices on social media. YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have been instrumental in allowing people to express their distrust of deal and Jay-Z’s true motives. 

For me, it was Jay-Z cringeworthy explanation about people having to “move past kneeling” during the press conference which indicted his lack of authenticity. He rambled. He scrambled for words. He awkwardly pointed at the crowd repeatedly asking “do you know what the issue is?”. For a Rap artist, a man known for his words and someone working on a deal for over a year… it was arresting and not convincing. At that moment, Jay-Z could not be anymore far removed from those individuals suffering the injustices which this agreement is supposed to help. He is no less privileged than the NFL’s Commissioner, Roger Goodell.     

Ultimately, everyone is waiting to see if this agreement does bring about the change promised. We do not have the specifics of the deal and there are still several moving parts. However, this deal is a great example of how careful firms and influencers need to be when handling social justice issues. Transparency, authenticity and bringing all parties to the table is always necessary.

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