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NEW YORK — Once again, Colin Kaepernick was the story of the night. But this time, he had a little help from a friend.

Beyonce made a surprise appearance to honor Kaepernick with the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award during the 2017 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Awards. 

Introduced by Daily Show host Trevor Noah as “a friend who admired Colin Kaepernick so much she asked me to sneak her in,” the artist praised the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback for his courage to open what she called an important conversation about race in America.

“Thank you, Colin Kaepernick,” the 22-time Grammy winner said. “Thank you for your selfless heart. And your conviction. Thank you for your personal sacrifice. Colin took action with no fear of consequences or repercussions, only hope to change the world for the better.”

“I don’t know I could’ve asked for a better introduction,” Kaepernick said afterwards.

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Astros second baseman José Altuve collected the SI Sportsperson of the Year Award, but it was Kaepernick who won the night.

Sports Illustrated renamed the award in 2015 as a tribute to Ali. Its mission is to “celebrate individuals whose dedication to the ideals of sportsmanship has spanned decades and whose career in athletics has directly or indirectly impacted the world.”

Noah paid tribute to Ali and Kaepernick in his presentation, drawing comparisons between the two men, saying it was “what Ali did outside the ring that made him a legend.”

“When Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality, no one could have predicted how that one action inspired a national conversation about race,” Noah said. “He’s faced consequences for his courage. He’s been sidelined by the NFL, labeled un-American, and even been attacked by the president.”

After accepting the award from Beyonce, Kaepernick said he was humbled to follow in the footsteps of a man whose legacy, he says, paved the…