Colin Kaepernick hasn’t played football in 2017, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.
His name and his protests, however, remain in the public consciousness. In recent months, he’s signed a million-dollar book deal, been named GQ’s Citizen of the Year, and now, Sports Illustrated has given Kaepernick the 2017 Muhammad Ali Legacy Award.
The award seeks to honor “a figure who embodies the ideals of sportsmanship, leadership and philanthropy and has used sports as a platform for changing the world.”
“Colin Kaepernick made his truth known when he first decided not to stand for the national anthem,” Michael Rosenberg wrote in Sports Illustrated. “He had a lot of football left to play and a lot more money to make when he made his decision.
“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.”
The Sports Illustrated article agreed with Kaepernick’s claim that he has been blackballed from the NFL for his protests.
Despite giving him the award, the article also acknowledged some of Kaepernick’s flaws and missteps, such as wearing socks that depicted pigs in police hats, wearing a T-shirt with Fidel Castro’s picture on it, and not voting in the 2016 election.
"Nobody claims Kaepernick is perfect,” Rosenberg wrote. “Reasonable, woke people can be upset that he did not vote in the 2016 election. But the Ali Legacy Award does not honor perfection, and the criticisms of Kaepernick are misguided in one fundamental way: They make this story a referendum on Kaepernick.
“It was never supposed to be about him. It was about Tamir Rice and the world’s highest incarceration rate and a country that devalues education and slides too easily into violence.”
By giving Kaepernick the award, Sports Illustrated is drawing comparisons between Kaepernick’s protest and that of Ali, who was banned from boxing at age 25, and not allowed to return until he was 28.
Ali was drafted into the military in 1967 but refused to report for duty, questioning why he was being asked to fight for a country where “Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights.”
“Someday, America may well be a better place because of Colin Kaepernick,” the article reads. “This is hard to see now — history is not meant to be analyzed in real time. But we are having the conversations we need to have, and this should eventually lead to changes we need to make.”
Kaepernick’s protest, and those that followed from other players, has led to some progress with the NFL, which has pledged more than $89 million toward African American-supporting charitable causes, which could potentially lead to an end to the protests Kaepernick started.