Colin Kaepernick Got an ACLU and Sports Illustrated Award for His #TakeAKnee Activism

Your guide to the NFL protests, what’s working, what’s not and what you can do about it.

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Dec 6 2017, 6:00pm

Image via Getty Images

At the end of last year’s NFL season, quarterback Colin Kaepernick remained a free agent and still has not been signed to a team, effectively forcing him out of the league. Many have taken the NFL’s action as a slight against Kaepernick’s protests and to keep other players from following suit. However, Kaepernick has remained relatively silent about not getting signed, the continued league protests, and the rally at the NFL’s New York City headquarters in support of his protests prior to the start of the new season.

The demonstrations have frustrated team owners and elected officials, especially President Trump who has taken shots at Kaepernick and other black athletes on Twitter without getting a response from the former quarterback. Even in a GQ cover story, in which he was named citizen of the year, Kaepernick allowed other people -- such as Women’s March co-founder Tamika Mallory and rapper J-Cole-- to tell his story for him.

On December 3, at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California’s “Bill of Rights Dinner,” Kaepernick finally broke his silence about his legacy of social activism and the backlash he’s received for the NFL demonstrations. At the event, he received the Eason Monroe Courageous Advocate Award and spoke about his experiences.

“We must confront systemic oppression as a doctor would a disease. You identify it, you call it out, you treat it, and you defeat it,” Kaepernick said.

Executive director the ACLU, Hector Villagra, recognized Kaepernick for making history during the ceremony. He reminded the audience of the impact that Kaepernick had when he began kneeling during the national anthem to call attention to police brutality and unequal treatment of minorities.

In his acceptance speech, Kaepernick maintained his resolve.

“We all have an obligation no matter the risk and regardless of reward to stand up for our fellow men and women who are being oppressed with the understanding that human rights cannot be compromised,” he said.


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Following the award from ACLU, on Tuesday, December 5, Kaepernick was presented with the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award by Beyonce at the Sports Illustrated award show for Sportsperson of the Year. There are parallels between the stories of Kaepernick and Ali, who protested his fighting in Vietnam because of the unfair treatment of black people in America and was therefore banned from professional boxing at the height of his career.

After receiving the award 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."

What you can do:

Color of Change, a racial justice organization, is leading the charge to support NFL players who have chosen to take a knee. Sign Color of Change’s petition to demand that the NFL creates a player’s platform that will ensure the athletes of their right to protest.

Also, Color of Change has a new initiative that defends athletes who take a stand for marginalized communities. Learn more about their #superpowerchange campaign for ways to support athletes who are actively engaging in social justice work.

And then some:

About 40 NFL players banded together to form a players coalition in order to negotiate with the league about the demonstrations during the anthem. It appeared as if the league and the players had come to an agreement, in which the league would contribute nearly $100 million to charitable organizations specifically for black communities.

But some players are backing out the deal, which seems to come with strings attached. According to Deadspin, the contributions from NFL owners is a paltry sum, amounting to a $250,000 per year and per owner for a total of seven years. Whether or not the players and the NFL will be able to find a middle ground before the season ends next year remains to be seen.