BEVERLY HILLS (CBSLA) — The American Civil Liberties Union honored a handful of Hollywood actors, producers and lifelong activists at its Bill of Rights dinner Sunday, but the person who might have stolen their thunder was the outspoken athlete who has used the field as his pulpit for justice.

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the surprise honoree at the event at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, which seeks to honor “civil liberties champions.”

Before presenting “Kap” with the Eason Monroe Courageous Advocate Award, Southern California ACLU Executive Director Hector Villagra praised him, saying, “Our next honoree took a stand. He took a stand knowing he would risk his job. And he has lost his job, one that he loved and was supremely talented and skilled at.”

With a fist raised, Kaepernick accepted his award and told the crowd who had given him a standing ovation, “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.”

“We must confront systemic oppression as a doctor would a disease,” added Kaepernick. “You identify it, you call it out, you treat it, and you defeat it.”

Kaepernick has been both lauded and vilified for taking a knee during the national anthem before Niners’ games last year. His silent demonstrations sparked a movement of NFL players and athletes in other sports to do the same, a condemnation of the spate of documented killings of unarmed black men by law enforcement.

“We might be fearful of losing our jobs. We might be fearful of being criticized. We might be fearful of being injured or threatened,” Villagra told CBS2 News. “This is an individual who knew all of that and took a very courageous stand.”

The ACLU decided to keep Kaepernick’s appearance secret for his safety, as he has been the target of death threats.

President Donald Trump has famously called out Kaepernick — not necessarily by name — and other kneeling players, saying owners should fire them and “get that son of a bitch off the field!” Kaepernick remains without a team.

Among the announced honorees were comedy writer and director Judd Apatow, actors Viola Davis, Gina Rodriguez and Jane Fonda, and United Farmworkers labor leader Dolores Huerta.

The event commemorated the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, and sought to highlight “civil liberties champions,” according the organization.

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