Colin Kaepernick has been named Citizen of the Year by GQ Magazine -- and the reaction online shows that his stance on racism and police brutality is as polarizing a subject as ever.
Kaepernick tweeted on Monday that he was "honored to be recognized" after GQ announced their decision with a cover, photo shoot and essay entitled "Colin Kaepernick Will Not Be Silenced."
The 30-year-old athlete and activist became a lightning rod for racial tensions in America in 2016 when he refused to stand for the national anthem to protest police brutality. "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," he said at the time. "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."
Shortly after beginning his anthem protests, Kaepernick also pledged to donating $1 million of his salary and all earnings from sales of his jersey to community organizations that focus on homelessness, education, criminal justice reform and other issues connected to racial inequality. He's also funded "Know Your Rights" youth seminars to teach disadvantaged young people about history, nutrition, legal rights and financial literacy.
His actions stirred up intense debate on the left and the right of the political spectrum, with supporters joining the #TakeAKnee movement both on the field and on social media, while critics accused him of being unpatriotic and ungrateful -- to the point that President Donald Trump called for the "sons of bitches" kneeling during the anthem to be kicked out of the NFL. The controversy seems to have played a role in Kaepernick not being picked up by an NFL team so far, despite a promising early career with the San Francisco 49ers.
"He's been vilified by millions and locked out of the NFL -- all because he took a knee to protest police brutality," GQ wrote in their Citizen of the Year announcement. "Colin Kaepernick's determined stand puts him in rare company in sports history: Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson -- athletes who risked everything to make a difference."
The magazine continued, "He is still, to this day, one of the most gifted quarterbacks on earth. And yet he has been locked out of the game he loves -- blackballed—because of one simple gesture: He knelt during the playing of our national anthem. And he did it for a clear reason, one that has been lost in the yearlong storm that followed. He did it to protest systemic oppression and, more specifically, as he said repeatedly at the time, police brutality toward black people."
Kaepernick agreed to participate in Citizen of the Year to "reclaim the narrative of his protest," but also insisted on remaining silent in the spirit of that protest, allowing GQ's photoshoot of himself in Harlem to speak for him. GQ also collected essays about his impact from people like filmmaker Ava DuVernay, rapper J. Cole and former teammate Eric Reid.
Reactions to GQ's decision were divided along predictable lines on Twitter on Monday, with his fans cheering him on (and relishing the ongoing controversy), and haters highlighting his most divisive moments and rallying around Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt as a better choice.
GQ mag did the right thing by making Colin Kaepernick "Citizen of the Year". Let's continue to shine a spotlight on how law enforcement has been infiltrated by white supremacists (according to the FBI)
Wear socks depicting police officers as pigs; wear Fidel Castro as a fashion statement IN MIAMI; sue NFL for collusion when gf compares owners to slave owners... Win Citizen of the Year. Serve in the US military...nothing. What a joke, GQ. #Kaepernick
Liberals are Glorifying Kapernick as Citizen of the Year- All he has contributed to society is protesting the national anthem-which launched the downfall of the NFL & normalizing cops depicted as pigs. 🤔