Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who launched a protest movement last year when he refused to stand for the national anthem before NFL games, was honored Sunday at the ACLU of Southern California's annual Bill of Rights Dinner in Beverly Hills.
Kaepernick was awarded the Eason Monroe Courageous Advocate Award, a recognition that was a surprise to event guests, who gave him a standing ovation. His name was not on the star-studded list of honorees released before the banquet that included Hollywood A-listers Jane Fonda, Viola Davis and Judd Apatow.
"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 the understanding that human rights cannot be compromised," Kaepernick told the crowd while accepting the award, according to organizers.
Kaepernick, who turned 30 last month, began protesting before games in response to the large number of black men killed by police. His actions ignited a national debate about political activism by athletes.
"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 NFL Media last year. "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."
Since then, he's been largely quiet about his activism. But several NFL players this season continued what he started, sitting or kneeling during the national anthem. Their actions drew fierce denunciations from President Trump, who called on NFL owners to fire or suspend players who didn't stand for the anthem.
"If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast," Trump tweeted in September. "Fire or suspend!"
In March, Kaepernick became a free agent, opting out of his contract with the 49ers. Since then, he has been unable to find a team willing to hire him. Last month, he filed a grievance against the NFL, alleging that team owners have colluded against him.
Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, told the crowd that Kaepernick "took a stand knowing he would risk his job," organizers said.
"He has lost his job, one that he loved and was supremely talented and skilled at," Villagra said. "He took a stand knowing that some would criticize him, and he has been viciously and unfairly criticized. He has been called a traitor because too many people in this country confuse dissent for disloyalty."
7:20 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from the event.