Free agent pro quarterback Colin Kaepernick received Sports Illustrated's Muhammad Ali Legacy Award on Tuesday, cementing the jobless athlete’s new role as a civil rights icon.
After receiving the honor, Kaepernick promised that "with or without the NFL's platform, I will continue to work for the people.
"I accept this award not for myself, but on behalf of the people," Kaepernick said. "If it were not for my love of the people, I would not have protested."
Singer Beyoncé, who presented the award, said she was "proud and humbled" by the experience.
"Colin took action with no fear of consequence or repercussion," Beyoncé said. "Only hope to change the world for the better. To change perception, to change the way we treat each other. Especially people of color."
Beyoncé was introduced as a surprise presenter by “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah.
Last year's Ali Award winner, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, called Kaepernick a "worthy recipient" during a video tribute.
"He fully embraced the risk to his career in order to remind Americans of the systemic racism that was denying African-Americans their opportunities to equal education, jobs, health and even their lives," Abdul-Jabbar said.
Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem last season to protest racial inequality and police brutality. Other NFL players joined the protest after President Donald Trump criticized the action in September.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” Trump said in Alabama.
Critics of the protests said the gestures were unpatriotic and disrespected the service of men and women in the U.S. military.
Kaepernick parted ways with the San Francisco 49ers in March and hasn't been signed by another team. He filed a grievance against the NFL in October alleging that he remains unsigned as a result of collusion by owners because of his protests.
On Friday, the NFL announced that it was committing $90 million over the next seven years to social justice causes in response to demonstrations like Kaepernick’s.
Kaepernick spoke Tuesday about continuing Ali's legacy for fighting social injustice, saying the boxing great, who died in June 2016, "mentored me without ever meeting me."
"The footprints he leaves are large," Kaepernick said, "and his life is and has been a multi-textured tapestry that is rich in love, wisdom, life lessons and human kindness. I can only hope that I'm taking steps toward walking on the footsteps that he has left behind for the world to follow."
Kaepernick skipped the red carpet prior to the show and was not available for questions. The awards show will be broadcast Friday night on NBC Sports Network.
Kaepernick also recently was honored by the ACLU of Southern California with the Eason Monroe Courageous Advocate Award and was named GQ magazine's "Citizen of the Year" for his activism, which included pledging $1 million to "organizations working in oppressed communities."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.