In August 2016, Colin Kaepernick’s fearless and selfless act to first sit during the ceremonial presentation of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the start of National Football League games and ultimately kneel on the sideline in a demonstration of social activism at once earned him the global admiration of countless people and an equal amount of scorn and ostracization by NFL owners.
It is also why he was honored with the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award during the 2017 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Awards held Tuesday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“When Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality, no one could have predicted how that one action inspired a national conversation about race,” said the event’s host, Trevor Noah, host of “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” on the Comedy Central network.
Noah continued, “He’s faced consequences for his courage. He’s been sidelined by the NFL, labeled un-American and even been attacked by the president.”
Indeed, Donald Trump appropriated the narrative to accuse Kaepernick and athletes who protested injustices of disrespecting the U.S. military and dishonoring the American flag as means to rally his racist supporters. Yet Kaepernick and those he has inspired remain undeterred in the fight for social justice and racial equality.
His movement has led NFL owners to pledge $89 million to address social justice issues. However, there is distrust among many NFL players in how the pledge was negotiated with owners by the current and former players representing them, the process by which the money will be distributed and the organizations to which the funds will be allocated.
Beyoncé, who was an unexpected presenter of the award to Kaepernick, said the 30-year-old former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, who has said he still wants to play in the NFL, is an agent of social advancement.
“Colin took action with no fear of consequence or repercussion,” she said. “Only hope to change the world for the better. To change perception, to change the way we treat each other. Especially people of color.”
In accepting the award, Kaepernick, sounding more presidential than Trump, re-emphasized the reasons for his activism.
“I am using my platform to protest systematic oppression, racial injustice and the dire consequences of anti-Blackness in America,” he said. “America is not living up to what America professes to be.”