After he accepted Sports Illustrated‘s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick 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.”
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.
Kaepernick sparked a national debate when he began refusing to stand during the national anthem in September 2016 to protest racial inequality and police brutality in America. A number of NFL players voiced their support for Kaepernick, who has been praised by his supporters for encouraging athletes to use their platform for social justice.
Kaepernick’s actions have been criticized by those who view his decision to protest during the anthem as a sign of disrespect toward the military or the nation as a whole. One of those critics has been the President of the United States.
President Donald Trump breathed new life into the anthem protest debate in September of this year when he suggested that NFL owners should “fire” players who protest and suggested they say “Get that son of a b—- off the field.” NFL owners, players and the commissioner condemned the President’s comments, and widespread demonstrations were made during the anthem before Week 3 games.
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.
J.J. Watt and Jose Altuve were honored at the event as joint recipients of SI‘s Sportsperson of the Year award for their efforts on the field and in aiding Houston’s recovery from Hurricane Harvey. Carlos Beltran was given the Hope Award for his work to help his home island of Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria. Rounding out the night’s awards were Maya Moore, who won the Perfromer of the Year award, and Joel Embiid, who was given the Rising Star award.
You can watch Kaepernick’s speech in full, as well as remarks from each of the other winners, when the ceremony is televised on Friday night at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Network.