Robert Kraft Got Jay-Z To Partner With The NFL After Kaepernick’s Protest | Is Kraft An Ally Or Was Hov A Smokescreen?

The maturation of the NFL’s relationship with Jay-Z and Roc Nation was spurred through the strategic positioning of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. According to a report from ESPN, as the NFL’s ratings fell during Colin Kaepernick’s silent kneeling protest against police brutality, Kraft and other owners internally felt that the league needed outside help to rebrand their institution.

Enter Shawn Carter.

Kraft contacted the entertainment tycoon, saying, “The NFL isn’t picking up on these social issues. We need your help.”

Eventually, through Kraft’s influence, Jay-Z and Roc Nation met with NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell and inked a five-year, $25 million deal. The goals were simple: revamp the iconic Super Bowl halftime show, boost the NFL’s social justice agenda, and more. However, only some owners were down for the Carter effect on their business model.

Cultural Opposition

Then-Houston Texans owner Bob McNair reportedly said during a closed-door meeting in 2017 that the NFL “can’t have the inmates running the prison,” a very peculiar choice of words in a league where most athletes are Black, like Jay-Z.

“Injuring themselves on the field, giving it all they got,” Jay-Z said in 2017 back at McNair on the opening night of his “4:44” Tour. “That’s how they look at you. That’s what they think about you. We’ve got so much further to go.

“The truth is we all believe in whatever you believe in, inevitably, God, Allah, which means whatever you believe in, we come from one source. Which means we are all brothers and sisters at the end of the day.”

By 2019, Jay-Z said, “I think we’ve moved past kneeling,” during a press conference to announce the Roc Nation partnership with the NFL. The statement was controversial in the culture, which felt the NFL had not made any significant strides to address its perceived social justice issues at that time.

The partnership between Roc Nation and the NFL did deliver $250 million for various social justice causes. It gave Super Bowl halftime show opportunities to potentially overlooked acts like Dr. Dre, Rihanna, and more that were extensions of Jay-Z’s network.

However, culturally, behind the scenes, the integration of Roc Nation was not without its issues.

Still R-O-C

The NFL staff reportedly became afraid of Roc Nation in 2020, unnamed former NFL executive told ESPN, calling the partnership a “mess.” Roc Nation “essentially appointed itself as the league’s marketing arm,” the ESPN report said. Goodell told his disgruntled staff to work things out with Roc Nation versus backing their concerns.

Goodell is in the employ of the NFL owners.

Whether Kraft and other senior owners pressured Goodell to keep Roc Nation as the symbol of NFL cultural progression is unknown, but what is revealed is that Robert Kraft knew that Jay-Z and hip hop were good bedfellows for a league struggling to look corporately diverse and inclusive.

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