GQ Magazine has named former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick the Citizen of the Year. Kaepernick, who is currently a free agent in the NFL, sparked national controversy and debate when he began to kneel during the U.S. national anthem to protest against racial injustice.
On Nov. 13, GQ unveiled Kaepernick as its first designated Citizen of the Year. The magazine's editors asserted that Kaepernick had demonstrated commendable citizenship by jeopardizing his athletic career to protest against police brutality towards African-Americans. Kaepernick did not give an interview for the magazine feature.
"As his public identity has begun to shift from football star to embattled activist, he has grown wise to the power of his silence," the GQ editors wrote. "It has helped his story go around the world. It has even provoked the ire and ill temper of Donald Trump."
In August 2016, Kaepernick began to snub the national anthem while playing for the 49ers. The football player explained that he was protesting against 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," Kaepernick told NFL Media 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."
Kaepernick's protest generated national controversy, with critics asserting that he was disrespecting U.S. military service members and veterans. Shortly after Kaepernick began to kneel during the anthem, he clarified during a press conference that he was not directing his protest towards service members.
"I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. ... they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone," Kaepernick said.
The quarterback added that he was protesting because "this country isn't holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody."
In March 2017, Kaepernick ended his contract with the 49ers. He has since not been brought on to another NFL team, prompting his supporters to assert that he has been blackballed by the league owners in retaliation for his protests.
On Oct. 16, Kaepernick filed a grievance against all 32 NFL team owners, alleging that they had colluded to bar him from playing professionally.
"If the NFL (as well as all professional sports teams) is to remain a meritocracy, then principled and peaceful protest ... should not be punished and athletes should not be denied employment based on partisan political provocation by the Executive Branch of our government," Mark Geragos, Kaepernick's attorney, said in a statement, according to ESPN.
On Sept. 22, President Donald Trump rekindled the controversy over Kaepernick's protests when he called for NFL team owners to fire players who kneeled during the national anthem, The Guardian reports.
"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a b***h off the field right now," Trump said during a campaign rally in Alabama.
The GQ profile of Kaepernick included essays by the athlete's friends and associates, each of them voicing support for his protests.
"Colin is a remarkable young man," wrote activist and singer Harry Belafonte. "The fact that he spoke out on police brutality against young black men -- I thought it was absolutely admirable."
Musician J. Cole asserted that Kaepernick had potentially sacrificed his position in the NFL by kneeling during the national anthem.
"You're talking about a guy in his athletic prime, who's lived his whole life dreaming about playing football at a level that millions of kids dream to get to. ... He sacrificed his dream," Cole wrote.
Kaepernick took to social media to share the GQ feature.
"I'm honored to be recognized by [GQ Magazine] as Citizen of the Year," the athlete tweeted out.