At a concert at Citi Field in New York on Friday night, Jay-Z took dedicated his song “The Story of O.J.” to Colin Kaepernick and Dick Gregory, a comedian and civil rights activist who died in August.
“I want to dedicate this song to Colin Kaepernick tonight. I want to dedicate this song to Dick Gregory … I want to dedicate this song to anybody that was held back and you overcame whatever it was,” Jay-Z told the crowd at the Meadows Music and Arts Festival (warning: explicit language).
Kaepernick, who remains an unsigned free agent after opting out of this contract with the San Francisco 49ers after last season, has been a divisive figure in and around the NFL for his decision to sit, and later kneel, during the playing of the national anthem.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told reporters last year when asked why he was protesting the anthem. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
The quarterback’s protest gained traction in the league, and dozens of players have joined him in protesting police brutality and the treatment of people of color in America since the 2016 preseason. Ahead of the 2017 season, supporters protested the perceived blackballing of Kaepernick by the league outside the NFL’s Manhattan headquarters. From The Washington Post’s Kent Babb:
“He’s out there kneeling for my son and your son and my daughter,” Symone Sanders remembered one of the speakers saying. Sanders, the former press secretary for Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign and an organizer of the Kaepernick rally believed she would remember that feeling for a long time. “The crowd was just overtaken with emotion at that moment, and everybody understood that this was absolutely bigger than Colin Kaepernick.”
That, perhaps, is why Jay-Z chose to mention Kaepernick alongside Gregory. The outspoken comedic and veteran activist marched in Selma, Ala., was jailed in Birmingham, Ala., was shot in the leg during the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles and counted Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Malcolm X among his confidants.
In recent years, Jay-Z has become outspoken as an activist himself. In June he wrote a guest column for the Hollywood Reporter to push for projects that demand social justice.
“The power of one voice is strong, but when it comes to social justice, the power of our collective voices is unstoppable. Now is the time to recognize that through our voices we really can effect change,” Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter wrote. “But social justice isn’t a political issue. It’s a human issue. It’s a story of empathy. When we are able to identify that we are all not perfect and have compassion for someone else, we can move forward as a society.”
While Kaepernick still has not been signed to an NFL roster, the numbers seem to indicate that he deserves another shot as a starter or certainly as a backup. Despite his status, the 29-year-old was named the NFL Players Association’s Community MVP this week for his charitable work. He has donated nearly $1 million over the past year.
“For being named this week’s Community MVP, the NFLPA will make a $10,000 contribution to Kaepernick’s foundation or charity of choice along with an in-kind donation to him on behalf of our supporting partner Delta Private Jets,” the players’ union announced Friday.