Public appearances have been few and far between for Colin Kaepernick since he parted ways with the San Francisco 49ers in the spring, but on Tuesday night, he was in New York to receive Sports Illustrated’s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award for the movement he began in late 2016 when he took a knee during the national anthem at NFL games to protest police brutality and racial injustice.
The award was presented by none other than Beyonce, who famously paid tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement at the 2016 Super Bowl halftime show.
The performer thanked Kaepernick for his “selfless heart,” “conviction,” and “personal sacrifice” — alluding to the fact that despite his talent and history of success, the quarterback has not been signed by an NFL team this season because of the protest.
“Colin took action with no fear of consequence or repercussion, only hope to change the world for the better,” Beyonce said. “To change perception, to change the way we treat each other, especially people of color. We’re still waiting for the world to catch up.”
She also called out the people who have questioned Kaepernick’s patriotism because of the protest, and have tried to twist his message from being anti-police brutality to anti-military and anti-American.
“It’s been said that racism is so American, that when we protest racism, some assume we are protesting America,” she said. “So, let’s be very clear. Colin has always been very respectful of the individuals who selfless serve and protect our country and our communities and our families. His message is solely focused on social injustice for historically disenfranchised people. Let’s not get that mistaken.”
Kaepernick, who has not spoken publicly often this year, expressed his gratitude for the honor, and reinforced his commitment to continue following in Ali’s activist footsteps and fighting to end the systematic oppression of minorities in America, with or without a job as an NFL quarterback.
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Though I never had the pleasure of meeting Muhammad Ali, he mentored me without ever meeting me. He in many ways laid the foundation of what I saw as the zenith of athlete-activism and perfecting the utilization of your platform as an athlete to force conversations about how America was not living up to what America professes to be. Lonnie Williams, the wife of Muhammad Ali was in attendance tonight. I am equally honored to share this space with her. She once said that, “Muhammad’s legacy is not just for me and his children and grandchildren, it’s a legacy for the world.” I accept this award, not for myself, but on behalf of the people, because if it were not for my love of the people, I would not have protested. If it were not for the peoples willingness to support me, I would not be on this stage today. Thank you very much to Sports Illustrated for the honor of the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. I am humbled and honored to share this with the people. 📸: @KarlFergusonJr
“I say this as a person who receives credit for using my platform to protest systemic oppression, racialized injustice and the dire consequences of anti-blackness in America,” Kaepernick said. “I accept this award not for myself, but on behalf of the people. Because if it were not for my love of the people, I would not have protested. And if it was not for the support from the people, I would not be on this stage today. With or without the NFL’s platform, I will continue to work for the people because my platform is the people.”
The 30-year-old is currently suing the NFL and its owners, alleging that the league has colluded to keep him unemployed during the 2017 season because of his protest during the national anthem. He’s also kept busy during his time as an unsigned free agent, continuing his million dollar pledge, which donates $100,000 a month to organizations fighting oppression, and running the Know Your Rights Camp, a free youth campaign that teaches participants about education, opportunities, self-empowerment, and their rights when interacting with law enforcement.