The NFL’s announced partnership with Jay-Z’s entertainment and sports company, Roc Nation, was a surprising one. Though the NFL frequently turns to outside entities and figures to conduct damage control, the superstar rapper is one of the league’s most ardent critics for its dismal response to players’ protests for racial justice. Jay-Z refused to perform at the Super Bowl, citing the NFL’s apparent blackballing of Colin Kaepernick.
In a recent song, “Everything is Love,” Jay-Z even flaunts his stiff-arm of the most powerful sports league in the country. “You need me, I don't need you,” the lyrics say.
So why did Jay-Z sit down with Roger Goodell and decide to advise the NFL on entertainment initiatives and its activism campaign, Inspire Change? Enter RKK.
Kraft, as we know, possesses deep connections in the Hollywood and hip-hop worlds. The New York Times reports the Patriots' owner brokered a Los Angeles meeting between Jay-Z and Goodell in January, as part of a push to help the league partner with celebrity endorsed social justice groups. The NFL’s “Q” rating has taken a considerable hit in recent years, due to the Kaepernick saga and many of its owners’ ties to President Donald Trump. Just last week, Dolphins wideout Kenny Stills called out his team’s owner, Stephen Ross, for hosting a fundraiser for Trump while continuing to run a non-profit designed to promote racial equality in sports. (Interestingly enough, Kraft hasn’t faced backlash from any of his players for his very public friendship with the President.)
This year, the league struggled to attract A-list artists for its trademark Super Bowl halftime show. Rihanna declined, reportedly due to the kneeling controversy, and Pink backed out as well. The NFL eventually settled on Maroon 5.
Jay-Z’s group will help craft the Super Bowl production, and apparently also be encouraged to criticize the league when needed. “We don’t want people to come in and necessarily agree with us; we want people to come in and tell us what we can do better,” Goodell told the New York Times.
The fruitfulness of this partnership, of course, won’t be evaluated for a while. But for the time being, the NFL has scored a rare PR win on the social justice front. Unsurprisingly, Kraft seems to be pulling the strings.