AMSTERDAM — Amnesty International gave former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick its Ambassador of Conscience Award on Saturday for his kneeling protest of racial injustice that launched a sports movement and might have cost him his job.
Onetime San Francisco 49ers teammate Eric Reid presented Kaepernick with the award during a ceremony in Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands.
In his acceptance speech, the award-winner described police killings of African Americans and Latinos in the United States as lawful lynchings.
“Racialized oppression and dehumanization is woven into the very fabric of our nation — the effects of which can be seen in the lawful lynching of black and brown people by the police, and the mass incarceration of black and brown lives in the prison industrial complex,” Kaepernick said.
Kaepernick first took a knee during the pre-game playing of the American national anthem when he was with the 49ers in 2016 to protest police brutality.
“How can you stand for the national anthem of a nation that preaches and propagates, ‘freedom and justice for all,’ that is so unjust to so many of the people living there?” he said at Saturday’s award ceremony.
Other players joined his protest in the 2016 season, drawing the ire of President Donald Trump, who called for team owners to fire such players.
In response to the player demonstrations, the NFL agreed to commit $90 million over the next seven years to social justice causes in a plan.
Kaepernick wasn’t signed for the 2017 season following his release in San Francisco.
Reid, a safety who is now a free agent, continued Kaepernick’s protests by kneeling during the anthem last season. Reid has said he will take a different approach in 2018.
Kaepernick paid tribute to his friend for his own role in the protest movement.
“Eric introducing me for this prestigious award brings me great joy,” Kaepernick said. “But I am also pained by the fact that his taking a knee, and demonstrating courage to protect the rights of black and brown people in America, has also led to his ostracization from the NFL when he is widely recognized as one of the best competitors in the game and in the prime of his career.”
Amnesty hands its award each year to a person or organization, “dedicated to fighting injustice and using their talents to inspire others.”
Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty called Kaepernick “an athlete who is now widely recognized for his activism because of his refusal to ignore or accept racial discrimination.”
Previous recipients of the award include anti-Apartheid campaigner and South African President Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who campaigned for girls’ right to education even after surviving being shot by Taliban militants.
“In truth, this is an award that I share with all of the countless people throughout the world combating the human rights violations of police officers, and their uses of oppressive and excessive force,” Kaepernick said.