Ex-Green Beret And NFL Player On His Role In, Reaction To Anthem Protests

Oct 17, 2017
Originally published on October 18, 2017 2:44 am

Before Colin Kapernick took a knee, he actually took a seat.

Last year, when the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback wanted to draw attention to what he saw as the oppression of African-Americans — specifically by the police — he decided to sit during the national anthem.

And then Nate Boyer saw Kaepernick sitting and got mad.

Boyer is a former Green Beret who played football briefly with the Seattle Seahawks, and with the Longhorns at the University of Texas before that. After his initial anger of seeing Kaepernick sitting, he wrote the player a letter, saying he wished Kaepernick would stand up, but that he was willing hear him out about why he was sitting down.

That letter got a lot of attention, but also led to a discussion between Boyer and Kaepernick, which eventually led Kaepernick to kneel instead of sit. Now, as more NFL players have started to take a knee after comments made by President Trump, Boyer has penned a new letter. This time it's addressed to "Every Single American." It concludes:

So please, no more lines in the sand, not at home, not among our people. No more choosing sides, no more "for or against." I believe our Veterans will be called upon to lead the way in healing the world and solving its problems; right now our country needs that more than I can remember. So I'll be here, standing in the radical middle, doing what I can to continue fighting for those that can't fight for themselves. Let's get this thing fixed together, you and me. I love you all with all my heart.

De Oppresso Liber [The Special Forces motto, meaning "to free the oppressed."]

Boyer sat down to talk about this letter and the changes he's seen in the past year with All Things Considered host Kelly McEvers.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

On his first letter to Kaepernick

It kind of spread like wildfire, and he ended up reaching out to me and wanted to sit down and sort of talk about things. ... It was right before the last preseason game last year in San Diego, in the team hotel. And we talked for a couple hours about everything.

I mean, it was military appreciation day in the stadium, [Sept. 11. was] approaching, and he was sensitive to that. He didn't want to offend veterans, he didn't want to offend people in the military, and even police officers that do it the right way every day.

So I urged him to stand and then take action, because that's really how change will happen, and he said, "No, I'm committed to sitting until I feel that things are changing and that we're moving in the right direction." And so through that conversation, I guess, we agreed on a middle ground of him taking a knee alongside his teammates.

On why kneeling was better than sitting

For me, that's a sign of reverence. You know, people take a knee to say a prayer. And then also, military personnel, it's very common to see an image of a soldier, or a marine, or an airman, or a sailor, take a knee in front of a fallen brother-in-arm's grave to pay respects. So I just thought it was better, and it showed more about — that he's paying attention as well, he's not, in a sense, sitting it out. He's engaged.

On the most recent 'Take A Knee' protests

I'm torn myself, because, for instance a couple of weeks ago, when so many more players were kneeling than previously and teams were staying in the locker room and every team was doing something different — and it was in the wake of President Trump's remarks about players kneeling.

Then it became — it seemed like it anyway — it became much more about "we're protesting what the President's saying," not the initial message that Colin was speaking up about....

Then we've got, outside the Ravens stadium last week, there was a huge demonstration where hundreds of people — at least — gathered together and they were all taking a knee during the anthem outside the stadium. And I look at that image and I think "Oh my gosh, what did I do?"

On the feedback he's gotten

I'm pointed at and looked to as the guy who told him to kneel. Like I called Colin and said, "Hey man, you should protest police brutality, why don't you take a knee?" Which is totally not even close to the truth....

It's tough because there's — a lot of the people I served alongside, you know, literally fought alongside, that don't understand the whole story, and then are hitting me up like: "Look what you did, you're a disgrace to the Green Beret, you're a disgrace to us."

On his letter to "Every Single American"

I'm at this point, and I think a lot of us are in our country, where we're just so sick of all that hate and the not listening to one another. The irony in this is I wrote it, it's posted out there on the Internet and in social media and everything — but I think that's the biggest problem. ... We're so fixated on that stuff we don't — like you and I are doing, right? — we don't have these conversations.

That's where this letter came from — just trying to bring us together and trying to let people understand that I'm probably feeling the way that most of us are right now. We just want to heal and move past all this division and hate and anger.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now let's look at how all this taking a knee began because it actually began with sitting down. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick last year wanted to draw attention to what he saw as the oppression of African-Americans, specifically by police. So he sat during the national anthem.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Then a guy named Nate Boyer saw that and got mad. Nate Boyer is a former Green Beret who did multiple tours overseas. And he had played football, too, at the University of Texas. So after he got mad, he wrote Colin Kaepernick a letter, saying he wished Kaepernick would stand up. But he was willing to talk about it. This letter got a lot of attention.

NATE BOYER: It kind of spread like wildfire. And he ended up reaching out to me. And I wanted to sit down and sort of talk about things.

MCEVERS: When was that?

BOYER: It was right before the last preseason game last year in San Diego in the team hotel. And we talked for a couple hours about everything. I mean it was military appreciation day in the stadium. 9/11's approaching. And he was sensitive to that. You know, he was - he didn't want to offend veterans. He didn't want to offend people in the military and even police officers that do it the right way every day. So, you know, I urged him to stand and then take action because that's really how this change will happen. And he said, no, I'm committed to sitting until I feel that things are changing and that we're moving in the right direction. And so through that conversation, I guess we agreed on a middle ground, with him taking a knee alongside his teammates.

MCEVERS: What was it about kneeling that you were OK with as a veteran?

BOYER: Yeah. I mean, for me, that's a sign of reverence. You know, people take a knee to say a prayer. And then, also, military personnel - it's very common to see an image of a soldier or Marine or an airman or a sailor take a knee in front of a fallen - you know, a fallen brother in arms' grave to pay respects. So I just thought it was better. You know, and it showed more about that he's paying attention, as well. He's not, in a sense, sitting it out. You know what I mean? He's engaged.

MCEVERS: And now we're here (laughter). We're in a place - it's a year later. And lots of players are taking a knee. Other players are saying, we're not going to take a knee. America - you know, people across the country have opinions - very strong opinions - one way or another about whether players should or shouldn't take a knee. I mean, I'm sure you did not imagine that your conversation with him in San Diego that day would lead us to where we are now. But what do you think when you see all this now?

BOYER: It's very interesting. And I'm torn myself because, you know, for instance, a couple of weeks ago - when so many more players were kneeling than previously, and teams were staying in the locker room, and every, you know, team was doing something different. And it was in the wake of President Trump's remarks about, you know, players kneeling. And so then it became - it seemed like anyway - it became much more about - were protesting what the president's saying, not the initial message that Colin was speaking up about.

But, also, I'm pointed at and looked to as the guy that told him to kneel. You know, like I called Colin and said, hey, man, you should protest police brutality. Why don't you take a knee? And - which is totally not even close to the truth. And then we've got, like - outside the Ravens stadium last week, there was a huge demonstration where hundreds of people - at least - gathered together. And they were all taking a knee during the anthem outside the stadium. And I look at that image, and I think oh, my gosh, like, what did I do? (Laughter) You know what I mean?

And it's tough because there's - a lot of the people I served alongside - you know, literally fought alongside - that don't understand the whole story - and then are hitting me up like, you know, look what you did. You know, you're a disgrace to the Green Beret.

MCEVERS: Whoa.

BOYER: You're a disgrace to us.

MCEVERS: That's happening to you?

BOYER: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah - big time (laughter).

MCEVERS: You're getting angry letters from fellow...

BOYER: I'm getting angry letters from everybody. But I get them from people on the far, far left, as well.

MCEVERS: You have written another letter. This time you addressed it, dear every single American.

(LAUGHTER)

MCEVERS: So you know, big audience. What made you want to write it, and what does it say? What's - I mean, what's it about?

BOYER: It's more of a - I'm at this point - and I think a lot of us are in our country - where we're just so sick of all the hate and the not listening to one another. The irony in this is, you know, I wrote it. It's posted out there on the internet and on social media and everything. But I think that's the biggest problem - is we're so fixated on that stuff. We don't - like you and I are doing right now - we don't have these conversations. And that's where this letter came from - just trying to bring us together and trying to let people understand that I'm probably feeling the way that most of us are right now. We just want to heal and move past all this division and hate and anger.

MCEVERS: Well, I'm wondering if you could read the last paragraph of your letter.

BOYER: I will. (Reading) No more lines in the sand. Not at home, not among our people. No more choosing sides. No more for or against. I believe our veterans will be called upon to lead the way in healing the world and solving its problems. Right now our country needs that more than I can remember. So I'll be here, standing in the radical middle, doing what I can to continue fighting for those that can't fight for themselves. Let's get this thing fixed together, you and me. I love you all with all my heart. De oppresso liber.

MCEVERS: What does de oppresso liber mean?

BOYER: To free the oppressed. It's the Special Forces motto.

MCEVERS: Nate Boyer, thank you very much.

BOYER: Thank you. I appreciate the time.

MCEVERS: That's former Green Beret Nate Boyer, who agreed with former NFL player Colin Kaepernick that Kaepernick should kneel rather than sit during the national anthem.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOM CAUFIELD'S "WASH THE DUSK WITH SILVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.