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Harvard awards Colin Kaepernick top honor for African and African American studies

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 2016. (Robert Hanashiro/USA Today via Reuters)
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Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who prompted leaguewide demonstrations during the national anthem, will receive Harvard’s highest honor in African and African American studies, the university announced Thursday.

Kaepernick will be awarded the W.E.B. Du Bois medal in October along with seven other honorees, including comedian Dave Chappelle, artist Kehinde Wiley (who painted the official portrait of former president Barack Obama) and Equal Justice Initiative founder and executive director Bryan Stevenson.

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Previous medalists include Muhammad Ali, Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey and civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). The honor is for national and international figures “in recognition of their contributions to African and African American culture and the life of the mind.”

Kaepernick began silently kneeling during the national anthem during the 2016 NFL season to protest police brutality and social injustice. He has been a free agent for 18 months, and he has a pending lawsuit against the league alleging team owners colluded to keep him off the field.

His demonstration led dozens of other professional football players to demonstrate during the national anthem; President Trump has used the issue at campaign rallies and on Twitter, calling for athletes who do demonstrate to lose their jobs.

Amnesty International awarded Kaepernick its highest honor in April, and the quarterback decried police killings as “lawful lynchings” in his acceptance speech. He was recently tapped as the centerpiece of Nike’s new advertising campaign marking the 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” slogan, in which Kaepernick tells audience, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”

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