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Jay-Z has ‘moved past kneeling.’ Some NFL players have a problem with that.

Miami’s Kenny Stills kneels during the national anthem before a preseason against Atlanta. (Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)

In discussing last week his company’s partnership with the NFL, Jay-Z was asked about Colin Kaepernick and said, among other things, “I think we’ve moved past kneeling. I think it’s time for action.”

Three NFL players have continued to kneel during the national anthem to bring attention to issues of racial injustice and police brutality, and two of them have made it clear that they have a problem with Jay-Z’s comments.

On Monday, it was Kenny Stills’s turn to express disappointment with the rapper and business mogul. Stills, a wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins who has been protesting before games with teammate Albert Wilson, told reporters at his locker, “Some of the ways that [Jay-Z] answered his questions, talking about, ‘We’re moving past kneeling,’ like he ever protested. He’s not an NFL player.

“He’s never been on a knee. Choosing to speak for the people like he had spoken to the people.”

Stills added, “To be able to speak on it, and say that we’re moving past something — it didn’t seem very informed.”

Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, made his remarks Wednesday at the New York headquarters of his entertainment company, Roc Nation, while at a news conference with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The company is partnering with the league to help produce the Super Bowl halftime show and other NFL-related musical events.

Roc Nation is also expected to have input in the direction of Inspire Change, an NFL initiative that grew out of discussions with players about their desires to help communities and to advance criminal justice reform. Those discussions were sparked by the headlines stemming from player protests originally begun by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has been unable to latch on with a team since becoming a free agent in March 2017 but who has continued his social activism.

Kaepernick sued the NFL over what he alleged was collusion by team owners to keep him out of the league, and the two sides settled for an undisclosed amount in February.

The subject of Kaepernick, whom Jay-Z has publicly supported in the past, came up frequently Wednesday, and at one point Jay-Z said, “Everyone’s saying, ‘How are you going forward if Kaep doesn’t have a job?’ This was not about him having a job. … I believe real change is had through real conversation and real work.”

On Monday, Stills said of Jay-Z, “I felt like he really discredited Colin and myself, and the work that’s being done in our communities. I think he could have handled the whole situation differently.

“If he were to say, ‘I see the work Colin and these guys have been doing, and I want to partner up with the league to further that work,’ it would have been totally different than the way he answered some of these questions.”

“For the most part, what I’m trying to say to people is: Let’s work toward solutions. Let’s wait and see what goes down, from this deal,” added the seventh-year player, a Dolphins team captain who led them in receiving touchdowns last season. “We can’t really tell right now. It doesn’t sit right with me, I don’t think it was handled the right way, but you never know.”

Offering stronger criticism of Jay-Z was Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid, a close friend and former teammate of Kaepernick who was among the first to join the latter in kneeling during the anthem.

Of a report Friday that Jay-Z’s partnership with the league would lead to him having a “significant ownership interest” in an NFL team, Reid said it was “kind of despicable.”

“When has Jay-Z ever taken a knee, to come out and tell us we’re past kneeling?” Reid said Friday in the Panthers’ locker room, while wearing a jersey with Kaepernick’s No. 7 and an “ImWithKap” hashtag. “Yes, he’s done a lot of great work, a lot of great social justice work. But for you to get paid to go into an NFL press conference to say that we’re past kneeling — again, asinine. … He got paid to take the bullets that he’s taking now. Because we’re not having it.”

Reid also derisively referred to the Players Coalition, a group of NFL players whose negotiations with the league resulted in Inspire Change and an $89 million donation from the NFL to community-oriented endeavors favored by the players. Reid and a few others broke with the Players Coalition, and he has accused the group of being paid off to help the league make the protests, as well as the issue of Kaepernick’s unemployment, go away.

Before a game between the Panthers and Eagles in October 2018, Reid confronted Malcolm Jenkins, a Philadelphia safety and one of the leaders of the Players Coalition. After the game, Reid called Jenkins a “sellout” who “co-opted” what Kaepernick began to “get his organization funded.”

Jenkins praised the Roc Nation-NFL partnership on Monday, saying, “To sit across from billionaires, and talk about issues and why they should be important, and why the NFL should be highlighting them, I think having somebody like Jay-Z, who can add to that conversation, who does these things on a daily basis and has a history of doing those things, helps us as players to have an ally like that. So I’m looking forward to seeing what that turns into.”

Asked whether he thought the partnership was a “cynical” move by NFL for “PR,” or if it was “coming from a good place,” Stills smiled and said, “I think that’s hard to say, but they’ve done a good job shifting the problem onto Roc Nation and Shawn Carter’s shoulders, instead of themselves.”

Of Reid’s use of the word “despicable,” Stills told reporters, “I understand his frustration.”

“A lot of what I’m trying to do is bring people together, so I’m not going to personally go that route, but I understand when people do go that route,” added Stills, a three-time winner of the Dolphins’ Community Service Award. “I’m looking for solutions, and I’m going to try and give [Jay-Z] the benefit of the doubt for now, but it doesn’t sit right with me.

“It’s not something that I agree with. It’s not something that I respect.”

Kaepernick appeared to make his own reference to Jay-Z’s “we’ve moved past kneeling” line in an Instagram post Sunday in which he praised Reid, Stills and Wilson for continuing to kneel.

“They have never moved past the people and continue to put their beliefs into action,” he wrote. “Stay strong Brothers!!!"

On that same day, Stills shared an Instagram post that showed him kneeling. In a lengthy caption, he said, “I’ll continue to take a knee to bring awareness to the issues of police brutality, systematic oppression and social injustice in our country — that is action.”

The wide receiver, who earlier this month criticized Dolphins owner Stephen Ross for holding a fundraiser for President Trump, said he would also “continue the work” he’d been doing “alongside the protest,” and he listed the following:

  • “Educating myself and others on social issues.”
  • “Being an advocate for mental wellness.”
  • “Mentoring youth and fostering positive action in our community.”
  • “Working with law enforcement to stress safety and accountability in our communities.”
  • “And ultimately, doing my best to use sports as a platform to bring people together.”

“There is great opportunity for this deal to have an impact and that’s the goal,” Stills wrote on Instagram about Jay-Z’s partnership with the NFL. “I will say that I don’t respect the way either party went about it.

“We can all work towards social justice without disparaging one another. … Let’s hope that Roc Nation recognizes this and shifts their stance on people using different methods to work towards what is hopefully a shared goal.”

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