When Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem was in its early stages in 2016, he met with Nate Boyer, a former Green Beret and walk-on long snapper with the Texas Longhorns, to discuss the issue. At the time, Kaepernick was receiving backlash for sitting on the 49ers bench during the anthem. It was Boyer who talked Kaepernick into taking a knee during the anthem rather than sitting. They saw it as a compromise, as a way for Kaepernick to continue protesting while respecting the viewpoint of a member of the military community.
Now, more than a year later, The MMQB spoke to Boyer about Kaepernick’s protest, what it’s developed into, and what Boyer thinks Kaepernick should do next.
Tim Rohan: You were one of the first people to speak to Kaepernick about the anthem protests. What have you made about what they’ve evolved into this season?
Nate Boyer: What they’ve turned into is not so much what Colin’s original message was, I don’t think. It’s been so much more about protesting the President’s remarks or protesting what an owner said, and things like that. It’s getting convoluted and confusing for a lot of people, and it’s continuing to hurt a lot of people as well.
It’s complicated. I don’t quite understand why it’s turned into that. Well, I guess I do understand. The media has given it so much attention, guys are going to keep protesting, because it’s done the intended job of raising awareness about stuff.
What’s tough and confusing for me: The flag and the anthem don’t represent that one man. They represents everybody. When the President says something that you disagree with, protesting the anthem is not the way to combat that, in my opinion.
Rohan: You don’t like that it’s distracting from Kaepernick’s message?
Boyer: I’ll be clear: I don’t like what it’s done at all. I never have. That’s not what my [original] meeting with Colin was all about, what my open letters were all about. I don’t want to see protests. I don’t want people to kneel or sit or do anything during the anthem. I don’t want that. I want people to stand, with pride, and appreciate their country and understand everything that we have to.
At the same time, if people don’t feel inspired to, I don’t want people to stand out of obligation. But I’m much more interested in what people are doing off the field. You can raise awareness about stuff all day, but if you’re not doing something about it in a positive way, if you’re not embracing those pieces that you want to see changed—even if it’s something that you disagree with or are afraid of—if you’re not working with those people, I’m not inspired by your protest, to be honest.
It’s a tough deal. They’re not really protesting the military or the country, in a lot of ways, but you don’t get to choose, as a demonstrator, how people perceive it. You don’t get to choose how I see that, and how I take it, and how it affects me. All that has to be recognized.
Rohan: You met with Kaepernick when his protest first started, and it was your idea that he kneel. How did that original idea come about?
Boyer: I suggested finding another way, where he was at least alongside his teammates. [Before we spoke] he was sitting [on the bench], being isolated from his team. That gesture made it looked like it was about him, and that he didn’t care. Like, he was literally sitting this one out. This is not something he’s interested in.
But to demonstrate, to protest, you still have to participate. I suggested that he should stand, now that he’s opened people’s eyes and ears and created some sort of movement. But he said, ‘I’m committed, I’m not going to stand until I see the changes that I want to see, I can’t do that.’ I said, I understand that. What if you did something else to show people that you’re open-minded as well? That you’re willing to listen and adjust in some way? And I thought that was cool that he was willing to do that. We went back and forth and I suggested kneeling because it was a sign of respect. People take a knee when they pray. NFL players take a knee when someone’s hurt on the field, out of respect. It’s a much more respectful gesture, while still bringing light to the issues you want to bring.
Rohan: Beyond the anthem protests, it seems that kneeling has become this cultural symbol for anyone protesting anything. What do you make of that?
Boyer: I didn’t want people to kneel. I never wanted that. I was just willing to give a little bit, too, and this was a middle ground that I thought made sense. What it’s turned into is different. It’s become this cultural phenomenon.
It’s come back to me in bad ways as well. Some people think I reached out to Colin and suggested that he protest. Or I told him, why don’t you take a knee to protest social injustice. I was simply trying to listen and move forward while embracing those who maybe I don’t necessarily agree with.
Rohan: It seemed as though the anthem protests were losing steam until President Trump made those comments at a rally in September. What did you make of those comments and how they stoked the protests?
Boyer: He was playing to the base in that moment. He was speaking at a rally and he knew he was going to get support from his side for saying something like that, because the people in the audience were supporters of his.
But at the same time, there’s a lot of people on the other side—even Colin. I wish Colin would continue to reach across and reach out to people like me and seek advice and opinions from these people as well. Instead of just continuing to share and engage with people who agree with him. That’s the easy way to go. We all gravitate to people who love us and support us, and we want to push away those who oppose us or dislike us.
But if you really want to see change, you have to embrace that other side, too. You have to understand that their experiences shape their opinions and shape who they are and what they believe. It’s as simple as that. … Until these people in high places and these people who are leading movements, until they are willing to not only say, ‘I appreciate your opinion,’ but also show action, sit down and have these conversations and work together so that everybody feels like they’re part of the conversation and the change and the action and the polices going forward. Until that happens, we’re going to continue to be divided.
Rohan: Kaepernick has stayed out of the spotlight since last season. Have you had any contact with him since then?
Boyer: I haven’t spoken to him recently, but I spoke to him throughout all of last season and up until this spring. He’s been quiet with everybody, though. He’s been focused on trying to get back into the league, it sounds like. I don’t think that that is important anymore. With what he’s done, what he’s brought light to is so much more important than football.
I personally wish that he would take that charge and lead. Be a leader and try and unify us as a country. Step out of your comfort zone, swallow your pride, and, with humility, try to lead us back to together. Because I think he has the capacity to do that.
And a lot of people in the veteran community, believe it or not, would agree with me. I did a roundtable recently with some other veterans, friends of mine. A lot of these guys were really conservative. The flag and the anthem are very special to them, sacred to them. By the end of this discussion, we all agreed. One of the other guys actually suggested that Colin should be the one bringing us back together and unifying us. How amazing is that, that these people are saying that?
Rohan: What would that look like? Is that reaching out to the owners?
Boyer: It’s reaching out to the President. I mean, reaching out to the owners is a step, yes. But I’m a big idea guy. I’m always thinking, what’s going to have the biggest impact possible? Those types of things are what our country needs to see right now. We need to see people having conversations who disagree with each other. President Trump and Colin Kaepernick—if they sat down in a room and have a civil conversation, it’d be a very different one from what we’re seeing on social media and in the mainstream media. It’d be something that, I think, would calm down a lot of people in the country, if they were willing to sit down and have a grownup conversation.
Rohan: How do you think that conversation would go?
Boyer: I have no idea. I really don’t. And that’s the great part about that. Unless they were literally … I mean, it’s going to take humility, which I don’t know, at this point, how much those guys have. Or a lot of people with a big voice in our community have. You’ve got to be humble. If you’re not humble, change won’t happen. Look at Martin Luther King and Ghandi. Those guys are legends for a reason. They always approached these things with love and open-mindedness. They were willing to speak to people.
Rohan: Colin has donated money to several causes.
Boyer: That’s a good thing. It’s going to make a difference in some people’s lives, but is that the best that you can do? He can do a lot more. He’s in that position, he’s got the following, he’s got that voice. I’m going to challenge him to do more. I’m going to challenge everybody to do more.”
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