Remember when Jay-Z was a dynamic hip-hop artist whose stark lyrics gave voice to the oppressed and downtrodden?
Well, those days are over.
He may have 99 Problems — but a conscience certainly ain't one.
Completing his transformation to total sellout, Jay-Z climbed into bed with those racial progressives over at the NFL in what was clearly nothing more than a money grab for one side and a public-relations coup for the other.
Social justice has been banished to the sidelines.
"I think we've moved past kneeling and I think it's time to go into actionable items," Jay-Z said in a ludicrously weak attempt to spin his hefty NFL payoff into some sort of profile in courage.
With a totally straight face — and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell by his side — the rap icon and entrepreneur said his partnership with the league is actually a progressive step to carry on the campaign that banished quarterback Colin Kaepernick courageously began by kneeling during the national anthem to bring attention to police brutality and glaring racial inequities in the U.S. justice system.
"I think everyone knows what the issue is — we're done with that," Jay-Z said. "We all know the issue now. OK, next."
Hmm, where have we heard that before?
Oh, yeah, from opponents of the civil rights movement, who derided those protesting against whites-only lunch counters and seats in the back of the bus as nothing more than rabble-rousers who should've been focused on real issues afflicting the African American community, as if a system that denied pretty much every human dignity wasn't the actual problem.
"Now that we all know what's going on, what are we going to do?" Jay-Z said, putting his foot further in his mouth. "How are we going to stop it? Because the kneeling was not about a job, it was about injustice."
Hey, maybe the NFL should take its deal with Roc Nation to a whole new level by pairing Jay-Z with Jon Voight, another celebrity (yes, kids, Jon Voight was once a cutting-edge actor) who turned in what little was left of his cred card after that awful film "Anaconda" by declaring recently that racism was "solved long ago by our forefathers."
We can see the ad now:
"Welcome to another season of exciting NFL football! Featuring the social justice stylings of Jay-Z, who'll show us all how to make a buck off police beating up black people. And the racially harmonious world of Jon Voight, asking the question that's been on everyone's mind: Why can't we all just get along? And finally, we'll bring you the smiling face of Roger Goodell, reminding everyone for the 847th time that Colin Kaepernick is not in the NFL because he's just not good enough."
Now, back to reality.
Safety Eric Reid, who joined Kaepernick in his kneeling protest but managed to keep a job in the NFL, took aim at Jay-Z for teaming up with the league without getting some sort of assurance that his former 49ers teammate would get another crack at taking the field, something he clearly wants to do.
Jay-Z framed it this way: "So what are we gonna do? ... (Help) millions and millions of people, or we get stuck on Colin not having a job."
Reid replied on Twitter: "These aren't mutually exclusive. They can both happen at the same time! It looks like your goal was to make millions and millions of dollars by assisting the NFL in burying Colin's career."
Maybe we're being too hard on Jay-Z, who has long pulled off that delicate balancing act between social consciousness (such as his Trayvon Martin documentary series) and the potential pitfalls of good ol' capitalism (his 2013 collaboration with Barney's was widely panned over allegations that the luxury store discriminated against black shoppers).
He's been on the right side of many issues, but never let it stand in the way of making a buck.
Jay-Z was reportedly peeved at rapper Travis Scott for performing with Maroon 5 during last season's Super Bowl in Atlanta, after many black artists bailed on the halftime show over the league's treatment of Kaepernick. But now that he's got all that cash in his pocket, Jay-Z says his stance had nothing to do with the ex-quarterback.
"My problem is (Scott) had the biggest year to me last year, and he's playing on a stage that had an M on it," Jay-Z said. "I didn't see any reason for him to play second fiddle to anyone that year, and that was my argument."
Jay-Z says he won't be performing at this season's Super Bowl, but his company — home to Rihanna, DJ Khaled and other stars — will co-produce the halftime show and serve as a consultant on other entertainment projects with the league, as well as working with its Inspire Change initiative.
"The NFL has a great big platform, and it has to be all-inclusive," Jay-Z told The New York Times when his deal with the league was first announced. "They were willing to do some things, to make some changes, that we can do some good."
Too bad he won't be pushing for an NFL that includes Kaepernick.
Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP—NFL