Colin Kaepernick has once again become a story of the night. But this time the reason was a little help from a friend.
Beyoncé gave a surprise presentation to honour Kaepernick with the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award at the 2017 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Awards.
Introduced by Daily Show host Trevor Noah as “a friend who admired Colin Kaepernick so much she asked me to sneak her in,” the artist actually praised the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback for his determination to open what she called a crucial conversation about race in America.
“Thank you, Colin Kaepernick,” the 22-time Grammy winner added. “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.”
“I don’t know I could’ve asked for a better introduction,” Kaepernick said afterwards.
Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Astros second baseman José Altuve collected the SI Sportsperson of the Year Award, but it was Kaepernick who had actually won the award that night.
Sports Illustrated renamed the award in 2015 as a tribute to Ali. Its goal is to “celebrate individuals whose dedication to the ideals of sportsmanship has been there for decades and whose career in athletics has directly or indirectly impacted the world.”
Noah paid tribute to Ali and Kaepernick in his speech, making comparisons between the two men, saying it was “what Ali did outside the ring that made him a legend.”
“When Kaepernick took a knee at the national anthem to protest police brutality, no one could have known how that one action inspired a national talk about race,” Noah said. “He’s faced consequences for his courage. He’s been sided by the NFL, labelled un-American, and even been attacked by the president.”
After receiving the award from Beyoncé, Kaepernick said he was humbled to follow in the footsteps of a man whose legacy, he says, paved the way for his protest.
“I am using my platform to protest systematic oppression, racial injustice, and the dire consequences of anti-blackness in America,” Kaepernick said. “America is not living up to what America professes to be.”
In his speech, which was there for about five minutes and was well-received by a crowd of about 500 at the Barclays Center, Kaepernick only once mentioned the NFL, where he remains without a team after leaving the 49ers before this season.
“I accept this award not for myself, but on behalf of the people,” he said. “With or without the NFL’s platform, I will continue to work for the people.”
Kaepernick has done just that. Last season, when he was portraying for the 49 years, he became the first NFL player to kneel during the national anthem to bring attention to racial injustice and police brutality.
This year, hundreds of players followed suit, inducing the ire of President Trump.
Finally, Kaepernick applauded the next generation of athletes, saying that it cheers his heart to see young people taking a stand on important cultural issues.
One of those next-generation athletes, 10-year-old Maxwell “Bunchie” Young, was also there among the crowd.
The aspiring football player was acknowledged with the SI Kids SportsKid of the Year award, and during the event, named Kaepernick as his number one idol on the red carpet ahead of the event.
“Colin Kaepernick is a big motivation to me,” Young said. “He stands up for equal rights and he won’t let anybody tell him what he can’t do.”
Former winners of the award include Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Jack Nicklaus and Jim Brown.
The show airs on Friday (NBC Sports Network,8 p.m. ET.)
Kaepernick, who is a finalist for the Time person of the year, which will be declared on Wednesday, also received an award from the ACLU on Sunday.