Beyoncé paid tribute to Colin Kaepernick’s “selfless heart” Tuesday night as she presented him with the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award at the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Awards.
Beyoncé was a surprise star turn at the event, appearing on stage to present the former 49ers quarterback with the award, which is given to an athlete who uses their platform to promote change.
Kaepernick ignited controversy at the beginning of the 2016-17 NFL season when he took a knee during the playing of the national anthem before every game, saying it was a protest against America’s racial inequality, police brutality, and social injustice.
Kaepernick’s contract with the 49ers ran out early this year and the free agent hasn’t been picked up by another NFL team since, despite his strong on-field statistics and numerous prominent openings when starting quarterbacks were injured across the league. Many commentators believe his protest is the reason he has not been selected, and he filed a grievance against the NFL in October, alleging that he remains unsigned as a result of collusion by owners following his protests.
After President Trump made numerous interventions condemning the protest against the flag (including calling on owners to fire players who took a knee), the demonstrations spread across the league.
When Kaepernick was announced as the winner of the award, Muhammad Ali’s widow, Lonnie, 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.”
Beyonce’s appearance on stage to present the award electrified the event hosted by Daily Show host Trevor Noah.
She said she was “proud and humbled” to present the award to Kaepernick for his courage to open what she called an important conversation about race in the country.
“Thank you, Colin Kaepernick,” she said, “Thank you for your selfless heart. And your conviction. Thank you for your personal sacrifice. Colin took action with no fear of consequences or repercussions, only hope to change the world for the better.”
Kaepernick took the stage at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to applause and said: “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.
“I accept this award not for myself, but on behalf of the people. Because if it was not for my love of the people, I would not have protested. And if it was not for the support of 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.”
Other winners last night were Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Astros second baseman José Altuve, who were jointly awarded the SI Sportsperson of the Year Award.
Kap’s award will go some way to making up for his omission on a previous SI cover focusing on the unifying power of sport.