Beyoncé‘s surprise appearance to present former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick with Sports Illustrated’s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award definitely didn’t go unnoticed — in fact, Twitter was strongly divided in their reactions.
Some threatened to cancel their subscriptions to the magazine for giving an award to Kaepernick, who made headlines in 2016 when he started kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality toward people of color. More players joined him, sparking a movement lasting into the 2017 season.
However, many were thrilled to see the 30-year-old athlete get recognition — and even more excited that Beyoncé was on hand to do the honors.
“The picture of Beyoncé and Colin Kaepernick just saved 2017,” said one commenter.
Another added, “Conservatives are so outraged that Beyoncé presented that award to Colin Kaepernick but are hush hush about the fact that Donald trump just endorsed a pedophile and sexual abuser for office,” referring to the president’s support for Roy Moore’s candidacy for Senate.
The Daily Show host Trevor Noah introduced Kaepernick before Beyoncé took to the stage to hand him the award. Beyoncé said that Kaepernick’s message was not to protest those who serve selflessly to defend the nation, but to draw attention to the work that still needs to be done in terms of race relations.
“Thank you, Colin Kaepernick,” she said. “Thank you for your selfless heart, and your conviction. Thank you for your personal sacrifice. Colin took action with no fear of consequence or repercussion only hope to change the world for the better. To change perception, to change the way we treat each other, especially people of color.”
After he accepted the award, the former 49ers quarterback said he will continue combating racial injustice in America whether or not he returns to the NFL.
“I say this as a person who receives credit for using my platform to protest systemic oppression, racialized injustice and and the dire consequences of anti-blackness in America,” Kaepernick said at SI‘s Sportsperson of the Year ceremony at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“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 our without the NFL’s platform, I will continue to work for the people because my platform is the people.”
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Despite throwing for 16 touchdowns and four interceptions in 2016, and despite a stated desire to play, Kaepernick remains a free agent. Multiple long-term injuries to quarterbacks have resulted in a number of quarterbacks with less impressive NFL resumes than Kaepernick’s being signed, and there is some belief that he remains unsigned because of his social activism on and off the football field.
The ceremony will be televised on Friday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.