Sports Illustrated, in partnership with the family of late activist and boxing great Muhammad Ali, have chosen Colin Kaepernick as the 2017 Sports Illustrated MuhammadAli Legacy Award winner.
As SI’s Michael Rosenberg writes, “In the last 16 months, Kaepernick’s truth has been twisted, distorted and used for political gain. It has cost him at least a year of his NFL career and the income that should have come with it. But still, it is his truth. He has not wavered from it. He does not regret speaking it. He has caused millions of people to examine it. And, quietly, he has donated a million dollars to support it.
“For all those reasons—for his steadfastness in the fight for social justice, for his adherence to his beliefs no matter the cost—Colin Kaepernick is the recipient of the 2017 Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. Each year SI and the Ali family honor a figure who embodies the ideals of sportsmanship, leadership and philanthropy and has used sports as a platform for changing the world. ‘I am proud to be able to present this to Colin for his passionate defense of social justice and civil rights for all people,’ says Lonnie Ali, Muhammad’s widow. ‘Like Muhammad, Colin is a man who stands on his convictions with confidence and courage, undaunted by the personal sacrifices he has had to make to have his message heard. And he has used his celebrity and philanthropy to benefit some of our most vulnerable community members’.”
In a statement from the magazine announcing the selection, Lonnie Ali, Muhammad’s widow, said, “Like Muhammad, Colin is a man who stands on his convictions with confidence and courage, undaunted by the personal sacrifices he has had to make to have his message heard.”
Kaepernick began silently protesting police brutality during the 2016 NFL preseason. Bothered by the deaths of men like Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray and others, who were killed by police officers who received a paid vacation and little else, the then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback sat during the playing of the national anthem. He did it a couple of times before NFL Network’s Steve Wyche noticed and asked Kaepernick what was going on.
Kaepernick explained that he wanted to make a statement about inequality and social justice.
“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way,” he said. “There are bodies in the street…and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
A smattering of players followed his lead, in 2016, kneeling or raising a fist.
But unlike those who have also protested, Kaepernick has been without a job for this season. He opted out of his contract with the 49ers after the team made it clear it wasn’t going to keep him, and while he reportedly has continued to diligently work out, he’s also donated a great deal of his own money and, more significantly, his time, to causes he believes in.
Previous Ali Legacy winners include Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown, Jack Nicklaus and Magic Johnson.
“But no winner has been more fitting than Kaepernick. Ali lost more than three years of his career for his refusal to serve in the military in opposition to the Vietnam War. Kaepernick has lost one year, so far, for his pursuit of social justice,” Rosenberg writes.
GQ magazine announced Kaepernick as its “Citizen of the Year” earlier this month.