A minute into ‘The Story of O.J.’, the second song from his 13th studio album 4:44, Jay-Z raps, “OJ like ‘I’m not black, I’m OJ’......OK!” That’s a direct quote attributed to one of the top NFL runningbacks and
alleged murderers of all time, and Jay-Z picked that shit apart with a long pause and a smirking ‘sure, whatever you say’.
Orenthal James Simpson thought he was above racism, just floating above the oppression and struggle of all the other people who looked similar. Maybe OJ thought he could make enough money and climb the social ladder until even the idea of race was no longer a weight he had to carry. Maybe that desperate need for acceptance and belonging from the ‘elites’ allowed him to swallow being cast as the ‘right’ or ‘better’ version of blackness vs. the ‘hostile’ and ‘divisive’ positions of movements like the Black Panther Party (founded in Oakland, CA in 1966). Keep in mind OJ’s rise as an incredible football player (first in college at USC, and then in the NFL) came during the height of the American civil rights movement of the late 60s. I assume OJ was aware of the political climate at that time, but maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he had no idea who Muhammad Ali was and never read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s letter from that jail in Birmingham. By the way, MLK was assassinated in April 1968 and 7 months later, OJ would win the Heisman Trophy by the largest margin in college football history - a record that still stands to this day. Maybe that’s just a coincidence. Maybe, maybe, maybe...
Jay-Z understands what he’s doing with his NFL partnership. He’s not a dumb person - he understands promotion, specifically marketing to black people and how things play within and outside of our community. He understands leverage, how to get the most out of a deal, how to be successful independent of the ‘elites’. Hov owns his masters, has his own streaming service, record label, clothing line, restaurants, sports agency, overpriced liquor, etc. upon etc. These are the things I keep coming back to when I wrestle with the idea that Jay-Z, of all fucking people, needed to assimilate and infiltrate the NFL in order to make change or fight for social justice or whatever the fuck.
I mean, read this shit: “With its global reach, the National Football League has the platform and opportunity to inspire change across the country,” Jay-Z said in an August 13 statement. “This partnership is an opportunity to strengthen the fabric of communities across America.” That ‘inspire change’? Literally nothing but platitudes about economic/educational advances, police/community relations, and criminal justice reform. Oh you wanted details about how to achieve those things? How about a live performance from Meghan Trainor in Chicago during the NFL season kick-off instead? Wait - this is the same city where the LaQuan McDonald shooting took place? Huh. How about if we partner with a group ran by a white woman that specializes in shaming/cutting our natural hair, loves Trump, and is so pro-cop the FBI gave them recognition for all their great work? Lemme guess, that’s bad too?!
Speaking of Laquan McDonald, Colin Kaepernick started protesting police brutality (not for criminal justice reform specifically or better police/community relations generally) during the 2016 NFL preseason. It wasn’t until the 3rd preseason game that anybody even noticed what was happening. Colin didn’t make any grand speech or public performance, simply answered a question post-game and detailed why he was doing what he was doing. We all know what happened after that, from national outrage to being blackballed to filing a lawsuit against the NFL and winning a settlement to the deal w/ Nike. His answer is still as crystal clear today as it was back in that locker room in August 3 years ago as to why he protested and continues to speak out. In a recent interview with Paper magazine: “In the 50 years since the struggles of the Black Panther movement, what has changed? Oscar Grant, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice,” he said, ticking off names of people killed by police in recent years. “Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray. The Panthers’ demands are still alive today because the police are still killing us today.”
All of our faves are problematic as hell - there’s no getting around that, and it’s always so disappointing to see no matter how many times it occurs. There’s just something about the way this whole thing went down that I cannot get over. I don’t care about the plausible deniability folks seem to be giving Jay when he says that “we’re past kneeling”, or ‘chess vs. checkers’ twitter twisting themselves into knots to work thru the fuckery of him blaming single moms for their sons getting shot by the police - I’m not donating any more ‘maybes’ to the man. Jay-Z calls himself the ultimate hustler, baby; he could sell water to a well after all. I believe you, Jay. I just hope the money is worth it.