Sometimes the smallest actions can have the biggest impact.
All former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did was sit down. He didn’t shout, he didn’t stomp, he didn’t set anything on fire — he simply didn’t stand up during the national anthem.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images.
That one small act sparked conversations about racial injustice and police use of force — in addition to the meaning of the national anthem and American flag — and ignited a social media controversy the likes of which I have rarely seen.
But Kaepernick didn’t continue to sit. After consulting with veteran and fellow football player Nate Boyer, Kaepernick switched to kneeling instead of sitting, to show respect for veterans while still protesting racial injustice in America’s law enforcement and justice system. Throughout the 2016-2017 football season, despite the controversy swirling around him, Kaepernick quietly knelt on the sidelines at every game.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.
Some people hated him for it. Some people loved him for it. Amnesty International just awarded him their highest honor for it.
Global human rights group Amnesty International named Kaepernick their 2018 Ambassador of Conscience — the top human rights award given by the organization. Previous winners include Malala Yousafzai, Nelson Mandela, and U2.
Many Americans celebrated the honor, while others rolled their eyes. But whether or not you agree with Kaepernick’s message or methods, there’s no doubt he earned and deserves this award.
As Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, said:
“The Ambassador of Conscience award celebrates the spirit of activism and exceptional courage, as embodied by Colin Kaepernick. He is an athlete who is now widely recognized for his activism because of his refusal to ignore or accept racial discrimination. Just like the Ambassadors of Conscience before him, Colin Kaepernick chooses to speak out and inspire others despite the professional and personal risks. When high profile people choose to take a stand for human rights, it emboldens many others in their struggles against injustice. Colin Kaepernick’s commitment is all the more remarkable because of the alarming levels of vitriol it has attracted from those in power.”
Kaepernick sacrificed his football career for a cause. And he’s done much more than that.
Some people have focused so much on Kaepernick’s anthem protests that they’ve missed the work he’s been doing off the field.
He started the Colin Kaepernick Foundation, with a mission "to fight oppression of all kinds globally, through education and social activism." Through his foundation, he has donated a million dollars of his own money to various organization working for justice and police reform. He’s created a camp for kids to learn about their civil rights. And he has inspired others in the NFL, and throughout the entertainment world, to donate to similar causes.
When I started the #10for10 #Encore as part of my #MillionDollarPledge it was because after I ended the Pledge I still had an amazing show of support from friends that wanted to be involved, so I decided on one more day to continue to support the organizations on the ground. Well that one day, turned into two days after an outpour of support from friends wanting to join to giveback to the community who are fighting hard for us on the ground everyday. 10 people in my original #10for10 turned into 20 people adding on at the end of these two days! Amazing! · Of course, I couldn’t end the #10for10 without hearing from this amazing singer, philanthropist, mother, wife, actress and activist, @aliciakeys. She messaged me instantly as the #10for10 was going to show her support and Pledge $15k to Silicon Valley De-Bug! @sv_debug is an organization that has initiated and lead successful social justice campaigns to advance the rights of youth, workers, immigrants and those impacted by the criminal justice system. · Thank you, Alicia for all the work you do in the community to help our brothers and sisters globally. And thanks to everyone that was involved with the #MillionDollarPledge! Together we are strong. See everyone involved as well as all the organizations we donated to that are on the frontlines everyday fighting for social justice on Kaepernick7.com! #PowerToThePeople
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All of this in addition to serving as a catalyst for conversation, a powerful symbol of peaceful protest for some, and a highly controversial figure in the social and political landscape for others.
You don’t have to agree with Kaepernick’s philosophical — or physical — stance to agree that he's met the criteria for the Ambassador of Conscience Award.
Standing — or sitting, or kneeling — for what you believe in takes courage, especially in the face of great resistance. After many teams had the opportunity to pick him up, Kaepernick still remains jobless with the NFL. He has been the target of the president of the United States, who referred to protesting players as a “son of a bitch” and encouraged people to boycott games when players kneel or sit during the anthem. There’s no question he made enormous sacrifices in his career — and in the court of public opinion in a “spirit of activism.”
In doing so, he joins an elite group of activists around the world who have been recognized with Amnesty International. And no matter what people think of his method of protest, he has rightfully earned his place among them through his uncompromising stand, and unwavering dedication to fighting injustice.