Old adages become old adages because they have the ring of truth to them. So is the case with one of the oldest of old adages “When you lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas.” Hip-hop mogul and media-mega-star Jay Z proves that this saying holds true even when those dogs are billionaires that own the most profitable sports league in America.
Nobody outside the exclusive club of billionaire NFL team owners knows exactly when the curious courtship of Sean Carter began but we all know where it wound up; with Jay-Z stepping into the role of human heat-shield to protect the NFL from the red-hot backlash from its flagrant corruption and injustice in its dealings with former star quarterback turned social activist Colin Kaepernick. And just in time for the brand-new season to kick off. After years of professing allegiance to Kaep and providing public advocacy for Kaep, and promoting Kaep’s cause, Jay Z reversed field and signed a partnership agreement with the NFL- the full and exact terms of which are undisclosed. What has been disclosed is that Jay-Z will now be involved with the music and half-time productions for the NFL. How nice. After turning down half-time shows in protest and encouraging other hip-hop artists to do the same, Jay-Z will now be leading the charge to bring out all of the entertainers he can convince to sing and dance for the NFL.
Let me be clear: Sean Carter has a right to do what the hell he wants to do with the celebrity he has built. It belongs to him. But when he packages up his own interests and ambitions like it is a present to the black community, people have a right to tell him to stick that present up his ass. We don’t know how much money is involved for him in this deal with the NFL and frankly it is none of our business. But when you decide to sell this maneuver as some kind of a continuation of the social awareness campaign that Colin Kaepernick and his former teammate and friend Eric Reid sacrificed for you deserve the condemnation of those men and their sympathizers.
With all due respect to Dr. Michael Erick Dyson, this is NOT analogous to a relay race with Kaep, Reid and others carrying the baton for a distance before handing it off to Jay-Z for the next leg. In this case, Jay-Z incinerated any idea of continued kinship or common purpose when he decided to use the phrase “we’ve moved past kneeling” in the oddly secretive and professionally edited media presser held in the wake of the announced partnership. A man who has made his fortune by weaving words together that would move the crowd and build a huge fan base had every reason to know the impact of such a statement. If he did not appreciate the power of the words he chose, then he certainly lacks the intelligence that is so freely assigned to him by people from every walk of life.
Consider what it sounds like to one of the men who used their greatest platform at great personal risk to call attention to the injustice of police brutality to hear the flippant comment “we’ve moved past kneeling.” It would be one thing if that phrase were spoken by a man who had taken that great risk along with you, but for that to come from some outsider who is simultaneously announcing a business partnership with the powerful interests who sought to silence your protest is another matter entirely. Any man with any sense would be HOT about such a display of arrogance and hubris at his expense.
No matter where you stand on the wisdom or folly of Jay-Z’s acceptance of the NFL’s invitation, it is beyond dispute that he only had that opportunity come his way because of the men who kneeled while the audience, the country and its president jeered at them.
Sean Carter should know better than anyone that words matter. It is words that turned Sean Carter into Jay-Z. Words do not just have meaning they carry an energy and the energy of his words shifted the social dynamic in favor of the NFL and against every player who still feels the need to protest on the platform he has earned for himself. Whether we like it or not the NFL owners are officially off the hook. And it appears that Jay-Z was so flattered by their courtship that he may not have noticed that he was- fairly or unfairly- replacing them on said hook. Because Jay-Z’s only publicly assigned sphere of influence is the singing and dancing portion of the entertainment program, the owners don’t have to do a damned thing else about the social justice movement. Jay-Z spoke on something over which he has no actual authority so when the heat is on again it will wind up directed at him.
And when the owners take no further action on the social justice initiative, what is Jay-Z going to do? Is he going to quit and look like a fool for jumping in bed with these Trump-supporters in the first place? Is he going to stay with them and look like the house-jigga that he set himself up to be? He is literally damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. And the crazy part is he didn’t have to do anything beyond what he was already doing. He could have kept supporting, promoting and advocating where those brothers may have needed him. But apparently the chance to jump in front of the stage and play Big Willie was just too tempting. Now black folks will be bickering with each other over Jay-Z’s fleas even more than they attack the NFL for the stubborn institutional racism at every wrung in their ladder.
It is easier for me to make this critique of Jay-Z’s move with the NFL than for most others because I am not a fan of his and I never have been. There is no question that he is a good rapper, a great self-promoter and he’s got good taste in women but that is about as far as it goes for me. I just don’t get the icon status. As for the rest of America, we’re still suckers for loud-mouthed, self-promoting, money-worshiping guys from New York City. They learn what image the people want and they weave a backstory and craft an image that gives it to them until it sticks. After a while they don’t question the merits of the performance because they are so conditioned to applaud. And so it is with this peculiar partnership between Sean Carter and the billionaire dogs. He laid and played and now the fleas are all over him now. I have no doubt they itch like hell- even if he denies it.