NFL Bosses Are Already Weaponizing Jay-Z

Kenny Stills hasn’t blinked once. The Miami Dolphins wide receiver, and two-time nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for his community service, has taken a knee during the national anthem to protest racism and police violence for two seasons. He has been outspoken both to the press and on social media about a variety of social issues. Just last week he made waves when he called out the hypocrisy of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross for being a Trump financial backer while also running a nonprofit called RISE with the stated cause of fighting racism.

Stills took it to another level when he criticized hip-hop artist, executive, and billionaire Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter’s new musical and social justice partnership with the NFL, which appears to be Carter’s entry point to someday owning an NFL team.

Sitting alongside NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Carter suggested that his partnership signaled the end of Kaepernick-style protesting in the NFL, saying, “We’ve moved past kneeling and I think it’s time to go into actionable items.” Carter went on to say that people should stop being “stuck on Colin not having a job.”

He was blessing the NFL as a born-again “woke” entity, but Kenny Stills, true to form, wasn’t having it. Speaking to the press, Stills criticized Carter for talking at length with the bosses, but not any of the protesting players before making this proclamation.

Some of the ways he answered his questions, talking about we’re moving past kneeling, like he ever protested. He’s not a NFL player. He’s never been on a knee. Choosing to speak for the people like he had spoken to the people…. I wonder how many common people that he knows or has spoken to. I wonder if he’s read my Facebook comments or my Instagram comments or some of the things people say to me. To say we’re moving past something, it didn’t seem very informed.

He went on, “I felt like [Carter] really discredited Colin and myself and the work that’s being done in our communities. What’s fueling everything now is division. I wish it was handled in a different way.” Stills not only criticized Jay-Z’s partnership with the league, but also how the owners as a whole have chosen to do business.

Now, Stills is feeling the backlash from his own team, in particular his coach Brian Flores. In a petty and passive-aggressive move, Flores began the first practice after Stills’s comments with a musical playlist that started with eight consecutive Jay-Z tracks. He dropped the playlist conspicuously during the first 30 minutes, when the media had access to the field. It was an apparent attempt to embarrass Stills in front of the team and the press, although the organization in damage-control mode made clear to reporters that this was all much ado about nothing.

It must be noted that Flores, one of only three black head coaches in the entire “woke” NFL, has been sharply critical of the way Stills has handled his disagreement with Stephen Ross’s Trump support. This shouldn’t be surprising. Flores is management. Ross is his boss. And Jay-Z is aspiring ownership. They know what side they are on. Kenny Stills knows what side he is on. The question is where the Dolphins players will fall.

Albert Wilson, like Stills a wide receiver, kneels during the anthem. Other than the two of them, the team has been silent. Yet playing Jay-Z is a signal from Flores that he rejects Kenny Stills’s using his NFL platform to protest injustice. We will find out if this causes Flores to lose the team by trying to humiliate a popular player or if it will “get them in line.” Either way, it says something remarkable about our times that the way he lays down the law is by playing Jay-Z. The Rap God has been weaponized as a tool of management. These are truly bewildering times.

Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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