Colin Kaepernick didn’t play a single snap of professional football in 2017, but he was the most relevant athlete in all of sports.
Kaepernick was the first National Football League player to protest during the National Anthem last season when he took a knee to draw awareness to race issues in America. This year, hundreds of other NFL players knelt, sat or linked arms during the anthem for similar reasons, a move that drew the ire of NFL owners, advertisers and even President Donald Trump.
Kaepernick is still out of a job — he believes the NFL is colluding against him — but his decision to kneel has spurred conversation around the role athletes play, or should play, in society and politics more broadly. He may not be on the field, but he became a symbol of something much bigger and more important than football.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.