From the beginning, Colin Kaepernick let his silence speak for him. Kaepernick is the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who set off a nationwide controversy when he decided first to sit down, and later to kneel during the pre-game national anthem to protest police shootings of black men. Overheated rhetoric to the contrary, his kneeling during the anthem was not anti-American, anti-flag or unpatriotic. Colin Kaepernick was alarmed by what he described as “bodies in the street,” the all-too-familiar deaths of unarmed black men like John Crawford, shot in the back by police while in an Ohio Walmart; Terrence Crutcher, killed while his hands were in the air; and 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, slayed by 16 shots in the back by recently convicted Chicago officer Jason Van Dyck. This is why Kaepernick kneeled. And this is why other NFL players kneeled.

I recall predicting his principled protest would cost him, but I couldn’t have foreseen that he would come out on top in the end. Or so it seems now that the NFL has settled Kaepernick’s lawsuit charging collusion among owners, a legal maneuver preventing owners from being compelled to say why all bypassed him and instead offered contracts to players with less talent and/or well-known personal issues. The settlement comes just weeks after the Super Bowl, when once again there was no comment from Kaepernick himself while "I’m with Kap” supporters publicly boycotted the big game and musical stars deliberately leaked their refusals to perform. Meanwhile, halftime performers Maroon 5 and Gladys Knight, who sang the national anthem, took hits for taking part.

We won’t know the details of Colin Kaepernick’s settlement because of a confidentiality agreement, but former 49ers teammate Eric Reid, who was also part of the collusion lawsuit, has a new contract with the Carolina Panthers, leaving open the possibility that Kaepernick may also be hired. His lawyer sent the sports world into a tizzy by suggesting that team could be none other than the New England Patriots. I am confident that is somebody’s fevered revenge fantasy, given chief Kaepernick critic President Trump’s closeness with Patriots owner Bob Kraft.

Should he return to the football field, some unnamed sources say Colin Kaepernick will not continue kneeling. But I expect him to keep raising awareness about the police killings of unarmed black men. He’s never stopped doing that. While the years of public controversy about how and why he protested dragged on, privately he was dispersing the $1 million he pledged to more than 40 grassroots organizations, including Life After Hate, I Will Not Die Young, Mothers Against Police Brutality, and Silence is Violence. That’s money he spent when he didn’t know if he would ever earn another salary in football or any other professional arena.

Colin Kaepernick has already joined the pantheon of people who took brave action for a cause bigger than themselves. Little kids know his story; grown folks wear his No. 7 jersey. In fact, Nike recently produced a new limited-edition ICON jersey. Kaepernick is now a permanent addition to the annals of Black History Month. That’s despite recent successful efforts by the legislatures of both South Carolina and his home state of Wisconsin to strip his name from celebratory resolutions. Doesn’t matter — they don’t have the power to erase his story or silence his voice.