Free agent NFL free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who sparked a national movement among professional athletes when he began kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality, was honored for his actions last night at Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year ceremony in Brooklyn, N.Y.
In the accepting the “Muhammad Ali Legacy Award,” for which he was bestowed for his “steadfastness in the fight for social justice” and “adherence to his beliefs no matter the cost,” Kaepernick, 30, cited his love of people as a reason he decided to protest the national anthem.
“I accept this award not for myself, but on behalf of the people,” Kaepernick said. “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.”
Kaepernick, who remains unsigned after parting ways with the San Francisco 49ers in March, filed a grievance against the NFL in October, alleging that he remains unsigned due to collusion by owners for his protests.
During his acceptance speech, Kaepernick vowed to continue to support social justice causes even if he is no longer in the NFL. “With or without the NFL’s platform, I will continue to work for the people,” he said.
In a surprise to those in attendance, Kaepernick was presented with the award by Beyoncé, who said she was “proud and humbled” to present the award, which is given to former athletes and sports figures who “embody the ideals of sportsmanship, leadership and philanthropy as vehicles for changing the world.”
Beyoncé’s husband, Jay-Z, has dedicated his song “The Story of O.J.” to Kaepernick on his current 4:44 Tour. Her presence at the Sportsperson of the Year ceremony continued their committed to applauding Kaepernick’s actions.
“Thank you, Colin Kaepernick, thank you for your selfless heart and your conviction, thank you for your personal sacrifice,” Beyoncé said. “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. We’re still waiting for the world to catch up.”
J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans and Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros were also honored as joint recipients of Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year award for their efforts on the field and in aiding Houston’s recovery from Hurricane Harvey.
Kaepernick’s current status as a NFL free agent has brought him and the police brutality cause a wave of support, as it has raised questions about whether he was being blackballed by the NFL.
Kaepernick was in Los Angeles this week as well, accepting the Eason Monroe Courageous Advocate Award at the ACLU of Southern California’s annual Bill of Rights Dinner in Beverly Hills.
Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year ceremony will air Friday, Dec. 8 at 8 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports network.