There was a surprise honoree Sunday at the ACLU of Southern California’s annual Bill of Rights dinner: a man known for taking a stand by taking a knee.
Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who ignited the NFL’s national anthem controversy by taking a knee in the summer of 2016 to raise awareness of racial inequality and police brutality, was presented with the Eason Monroe Courageous Advocate Award during the dinner in Beverly Hills. The honor is among the latest for Kaepernick, who on Monday was named a finalist for Time’s Person of the Year.
“Our next honoree took a stand. He took a stand knowing he would risk his job,” Southern California ACLU executive director Hector Villagra said. “And he has lost his job, one that he loved and was supremely talented and skilled at. He took a stand knowing that some would criticize him, and he has been viciously and unfairly criticized. He has been called a traitor, because too many people in this country confuse dissent for disloyalty. He took a stand knowing some would even threaten him, and he has had his life threatened, which is why, though we are profoundly honored to have him here, we didn’t publicize his presence tonight.”
Kaepernick raised a fist as he received a standing ovation.
“We all have an obligation, no matter the risk and regardless of reward, to stand up for our fellow men and women who are being oppressed with the understanding that human rights cannot be compromised,” he told the audience.
His suggestion for doing that? “We must confront systemic oppression as a doctor would a disease. You identify it, you call it out, you treat it, and you defeat it.”
Kaepernick closed by quoting Frederick Douglass: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
The award preceded the news Monday that Kaepernick is on the shortlist of candidates for Time magazine’s Person of the Year award. The other nine finalists (listed alphabetically) include Amazon.com founder and Washington Post owner Jeffrey P. Bezos, the Dreamers, “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the #MeToo Movement, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, President Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Kaepernick and the anthem demonstrations have been a sore spot for the president all fall. Trump famously alluded to Kaepernick in a speech in Alabama in September, saying NFL owners should fire any “son of a b—-” who does not stand for the anthem and setting off a vigorous debate that ensnared the NFL and players as the message became misinterpreted as a slap at military personnel. Players and the league have sought to clarify that, reaching agreement on an $89 million fund for social activism works in at-risk communities.
Trump has continued to call out players, only last week tweeting that the league was “weak and out of control” as he pointed out that around two dozen continued some form of demonstration, whether it be kneeling, sitting, raising a fist or remaining in the locker room during the anthem. “At least 24 players kneeling this weekend at NFL stadiums that are now having a very hard time filling up,” he said. “The American public is fed up with the disrespect the NFL is paying to our country, our flag and our national anthem. Weak and out of control!”
On Nov. 24, he lamented that players are now “the boss” in the NFL. “Can you believe that the disrespect for our Country, our Flag, our Anthem continues without penalty to the players,” he tweeted. “The Commissioner has lost control of the hemorrhaging league. Players are the boss!”
Kaepernick has remained out of the league this season after parting with the 49ers in March. Any number of teams in need of a quarterback have chosen to sign less-accomplished players as injuries have arisen, leading to questions about whether owners are blackballing Kaepernick. Last month, he filed a grievance to that effect, accusing teams of colluding to keep him out of the NFL.
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