Sports Illustrated announced on Thursday that Colin Kaepernick has been awarded the 2017 Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. The winner is determined by a discussion involving SI and the Ali family. The award is meant to “honor a figure who embodies the ideals of sportsmanship, leadership and philanthropy and has used sports as a platform for changing the world.”
Ali’s widow, Lonnie, had this to say about the decision to choose Kaepernick as the recipient.
“I am proud to be able to present this to Colin for his passionate defense of social justice and civil rights for all people,” says Lonnie Ali, Muhammad’s widow. “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. And he has used his celebrity and philanthropy to benefit some of our most vulnerable community members.”
This marks the fourth year of the award. Past recipients included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown, and Bill Russell in 2016, Jack Nicklaus in 2015, and Magic Johnson in 2014.
Plenty will disagree with comparisons between Ali and Kaepernick, but there are important similarities. Most notably, both have lost time in their athletic prime due to their stands on issues of social justice. Ali refused to be inducted into the military and go to Vietnam. He was convicted of draft evasion, and was denied boxing licenses in every state in which he applied during the appeals process. That kept him out of boxing from 1967 to 1970. His case was eventually overturned in 1971, and he returned to fight.
Kaepernick took a knee a year ago in the preseason, and continued to do so throughout the season amidst growing pressure. This past offseason, he opted out of his contract (John Lynch later made it clear the San Francisco 49ers would have released him had he not opted out), and has since remain unsigned. He had a meeting with the Seattle Seahawks, and was briefly connected to the Baltimore Ravens. However, he has remained unsigned and without a chance to work out for a team since then. He won’t be on a team this year, and it seems unlikely he ever gets another shot in the NFL. In the meantime, he continues working with minority youths through his Know Your Rights camps, and donating sizable amounts of money to social justice causes.
Since Kaepernick’s protest began, the movement has spread to numerous players on other teams. Things had quieted down earlier this year, but a Donald Trump tweet calling them sons of bitches who should be fired galvanized the movement. We have since seen the owners forced to respond, and their most recent effort is a $100 million offer over seven years to support causes championed by the players. I highly doubt the NFL would be doing this if not for the protests.
Some folks think protests don’t matter, but this is a very clear sign that they do matter and they can make an impact. We have seen his kneeling spread beyond just the NFL, and we are seeing results. History had already proven protests can have a tangible impact, and this has only further proven that.