“I am proud to be able to present this to Colin for his passionate defense of social justice and civil rights for all people,” said 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 the benefit of some of our most vulnerable community members.”
The award has never fit any recipient as well as it does Kaepernick. Muhammad Ali’s opposition to the Vietnam War led to his refusal to serve in the military and, as a result, Ali lost three years of his career. Kaepernick was ready for the fallout in the beginning and remains steadfast, holding true to his words:
“This is not something that I am going to run by anybody. I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
His words openly reflect those of the award’s namesake, Muhammad Ali, who said in the February 1968 issue of Sports Illustrated, “If I was walking down the highway with a quarter in my pocket and a briefcase full of truth, I’d be so happy.”
Much of the country looked on in disapproval of Ali when he was drafted into the military in 1967 and refused to report. As he explained it, “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam after so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” Ali was banned from boxing at 25 but rather than place his focus on what he lost, he spoke on the sense of self and more purpose than he found in the ring. He clung to his truth.
Since publicly condemning the justice system for allowing cops who killed unarmed citizens to go without punishment, Kaepernick has been blackballed from the NFL, but missed games and paychecks aren’t the only thing Kaepernick is enduring. Critics have dragged his name without an effort to understand what he’s been advocating for. He’s been accused of hating America despite his attempt to make it better. One day, America will be grateful for Colin Kaepernick.
History is rarely appreciated in real time.