American National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick may not be signed to a team, but he still has cause to celebrate.
On Saturday, human rights watchdog Amnesty International named Kaepernick its 2018 Ambassador of Conscience for his activism and struggle against racial discrimination and injustice.
The football player began gaining fame outside of the sports world when he controversially knelt during the US national anthem at a pre-season game in 2016. The gesture — intended as a peaceful protest of the shootings of unarmed black men and boys by police — inspired the #TakeAKnee movement.
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"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told the NFL media in August of 2016. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
Government data shows that police officers disproportionately use force against people of color and that unarmed, non-violent black people make up an alarming percentage of those killed by police.
Kaepernick was heavily criticized for the move, which sparked heated debate around the right to protest and freedom of speech. The #TakeAKnee movement even caught the attention of President Donald Trump, who suggested that NFL team owners fire players who joined the protests. Undeterred, many NFL players followed Kaepernick’s lead and repeated the gesture at games throughout 2017 — yet at least 223 black Americans were still killed by police officers that year.
“Colin Kaepernick’s commitment is all the more remarkable because of the alarming levels of vitriol it has attracted from those in power,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, in a statement.
Despite all the controversy, Kaepernick has steadfastly focused on his mission of fighting against social injustice not only as an individual, but also through the Colin Kaepernick Foundation.
The organization aims “to fight oppression of all kinds globally, through education and social activism,” including through “Know Your Rights” camps, which seek to raise awareness among underprivileged children of how to properly interact with law enforcement.
“While taking a knee is a physical display that challenges the merits of who is excluded from the notion of freedom, liberty, and justice for all, the protest is also rooted in a convergence of my moralistic beliefs, and my love for the people,” Kaepernick said upon receiving the award in Amsterdam, the Netherlands this weekend.
Past winners of Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience include Global Citizen Alicia Keys and other champions for change like Malala and Nelson Mandela.
Global Citizen campaigns for freedom, for justice, for all. You can take action here to support a world free from all forms of discrimination.