Thursday night marks the opening of the 2019 NFL season in Chicago, and with it, the "swindling" of Colin Kaepernick’s protest movement is all but complete. That's the real story, says Jamil Smith in a Rolling Stone story charging the NFL and its new social justice partner, rapper Jay-Z, with watering down and profiting off Kaepernick's cause to protest police brutality and racial inequality.
The league's new Inspire Change social justice initiative (see NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, left, and Jay-Z announcing it at recent press conference) kicks off Thursday with concert performances by Meek Mill, Rapsody and Meghan Trainor in the Windy City. Inspire Change apparel will go on the market later this season. All of which Smith sees as branding a feel-good version of social justice:
"Though the league didn’t say as much last Friday, past experience tells us that these products will end up as mandated sideline gear for players and coaches before too long. What better billboards do you get than the NFL star who scores a touchdown and slaps on an 'Inspire Change' cap?"
Proceeds will go to organizations promoting education, economic empowerment, police and community relations and criminal justice reform. "But the real profit comes from placating white feelings at the expense of black speech and protest," Smith complains.
What the NFL and Jay-Z are doing is a sham, Smith believes. Kaepernick and his fellow protesters "handled that job starting three years ago this past August, when they began kneeling in protest as the national anthem rang out before their games." Furthermore Smith writes:
"Under the guise of philanthropic activism, they are taking credit for Kaepernick’s message — even as they paid him a monetary settlement for continuing to deny him employment because he chose to express it. Even worse, they are flaunting it, showing how unserious they are about embracing his cause."
The NFL's social justice efforts are "rancid fruits" spoiled by commercialism and commodification. The “Songs of the Season” theme is perhaps labeled to appeal to corporations that consider words like “racial justice” radioactive.
While he was protesting in his final season of 2016, Kaepernick wasn't trying to sell anything. But Smith concedes that since then Kaepernick became a prominent Nike pitchman "and the brand once accused of sweatshop abuses put a swoosh next to his face and all of a sudden became conscious."
Smith is also miffed that the league sued by Kaepernick is going forward without the ex-quarterback's involvement in Inspire Change. The league has "not only silenced his antiracist message on the sidelines while denying him employment," but has also converted the movement into something it can profit from. But even better for the owners, they have not suffered many meaningful repercussions from denying him employment. The league that formerly employed Smith as a film producer protected its brand by presenting Jay-Z "as the apotheosis of its wokeness."
Jay-Z served the NFL to briefly entertain the appearance "that it actually gave a damn about racial injustice."
In Smith's view, Inspire Change and Jay-Z are virtue signaling without angering the overwhelmingly white fan base ― "not ending systemic racism with the kind of cultural and financial cachet that the league possesses. The priority is always making money while maintaining a profile clean enough to make that business sustainable." Jay-Z and his new partners merely put a civil rights paint job on their project, says Smith.
A few days ago, Kaepernick tweeted his thoughts, using a quote from Robert L. Allen's "Black Awakening in Capitalist America":
“What [they] seek is not an end to oppression, but the transfer of the oppressive apparatus into their own hands."
Before wrapping it up, Smith asks who, exactly, is the NFL attempting to inspire to change?
"Are they directing this message at police departments under consent decree for brutality and abuse? How about the president? Sending him a t-shirt?" Smith asks. Marketing gimmicks are not the answer to the cause of social justice, and besides, the people who needed the inspiration to change "heard Kaepernick a long time ago," Smith closed.