BEVERLY HILLS, California—Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was a surprise honoree at the ACLU of Southern California’s annual “Bill of Rights Dinner” on Sunday, receiving the Eason Monroe Courageous Advocate Award.
Kaepernick, whose public speaking appearances have been rare in recent months, remained unsigned this year after he spent last season protesting racial inequities in the criminal justice system by taking a knee during the national anthem.
“Our next honoree took a stand. He took a stand knowing he would risk his job. And he has lost his job, one that he loved and was supremely talented and skilled at,” executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, Hector Villagra, told a packed ballroom at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. “He took a stand knowing that some would criticize him and he has been viciously and unfairly criticized.”
The protest movement Kaepernick sparked has gained the support of several other players. Kaepernick and these players have been fiercely criticized by President Donald Trump, who said league owners should fire any “son of a bitch” who protests. Kaepernick has filed a grievance against the league and teams for allegedly colluding to keep him out of the NFL for his protests.
Kaepernick’s appearance was a surprise and he received lengthy ovations both before and after his remarks—the opening ovation actually drowned out much of an introductory video describing Kaepernick’s work. Kaepernick has pledged to donate $1 million of his own money to social justice causes and has nearly reached that total, having already given $900,000
“We must confront systemic oppression as a doctor would a disease. You identify it, you call it out, you treat it, and you defeat it,” Kaepernick said during brief remarks. “We all have an obligation no matter the risk and regardless of reward to stand up for our fellow men and women who are being oppressed with an understanding that human rights cannot be compromised.”
“In the words of Frederick Douglass: ‘If there is no struggle, there is no progress,’” he concluded.
In introductory remarks, Villagra emphasized the risks Kaepernick has taken by speaking out against racial injustice in the way that he has, and said the group had declined to publicize Kaepernick’s appearance in advance because he has received death threats.
“He has been called a traitor because too many people in this country confuse dissent for disloyalty,” Villagra said. “He took a stand knowing some would even threaten him and he has had his life threatened, which is why—though we are profoundly honored to have him here—we didn’t publicize his presence tonight.”
Last year’s winners of the Eason Monroe Courageous Advocate Award were Khizr and Ghazala Kahn, the Gold Star parents of fallen Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who were also criticized by Trump after they vocally denounced then-candidate Trump’s proposed Muslim Ban during the election.
Other award recipients this year include Viola Davis, Jane Fonda, Gina Rodriquez, and Judd Apatow.