Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem at preseason games in 2016. Since the end of that season, he has not been signed to another NFL contract, and he has a pending lawsuit against the league alleging team owners colluded to keep him off the field.
His demonstration inspired other players to kneel or protest during the anthem, resulting in President Trump profanely calling on players who did so to be cut. Those remarks in September ignited even stronger protests at games nationwide, with four NFL teams opting not to take the field for the pregame rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” during Week 3. Some youth and high school football players followed Kaepernick’s lead.
“How can you stand for the national anthem of a nation that preaches and propagates, ‘freedom and justice for all,’ that is so unjust to so many of the people living there?” Kaepernick, 30, said at Saturday’s ceremony. “Racialized oppression and dehumanization is woven into the very fabric of our nation — the effects of which can be seen in the lawful lynching of black and brown people by the police, and the mass incarceration of black and brown lives in the prison industrial complex.”
Eric Reid, one of Kaepernick’s former teammates who also knelt during the anthem, introduced the quarterback at the event. Reid, who has told teams he will not demonstrate during the anthem this season, remains a free agent.
“Eric introducing me for this prestigious award brings me great joy,” Kaepernick said. “But I am also pained by the fact that his taking a knee and demonstrating courage to protect the rights of black and brown people in America has also led to his ostracization from the NFL when he is widely recognized as one of the best competitors in the game and in the prime of his career.”
Amnesty International awards the Ambassador of Conscience designation to “individuals who have promoted and enhanced the cause of human rights through their lives and by example,” according to its website. Past honorees include South African President Nelson Mandela and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai.