There are few players who have sniffed death on the front lines and life in the NFL, as Nate Boyer has.
The former Green Beret returned from service to make an unlikely run at making the league — as a long snapper — and got a one-game taste as an undrafted free agent with the Seattle Seahawks, in a preseason game against the Denver Broncos last year.
If there’s anyone who might have an interesting, unique perspective on Colin Kaepernick’s lightning-rod protest, it might be Boyer. No, he’s not a minority. And yes, as he writes in a very enlightening open letter in Army Times, he occasionally feels “guilty for being white” for how some people of his color treat minorities in his country.
But Boyer let his emotions marinate a bit before responding to Kaepernick’s decision not to stand for the national anthem, something that clearly is in lockstep with Boyer’s heart.
“Even though my initial reaction to your protest was one of anger, I’m trying to listen to what you’re saying and why you’re doing it,” Boyer wrote. “When I told my mom about this article, she cautioned me that ‘the last thing our country needed right now was more hate.’ As usual, she’s right.”
But that was toward the end of his piece. Through most of it, Boyer tries to use his perspective and experience to put himself in the shoes of Kaepernick and understand his controversial stance, as much as it might run counter to his training and innate beliefs. After all, Boyer witnessed brutal hatred against mankind in other countries that outwardly makes most of what happens here pale in comparison. He also met people overseas who would risk dying to get a piece of the freedoms we have in America.
Boyer also recalled his college experience at Texas and his cup of coffee in the NFL and the meaning of the anthem, which has been a big topic of debate the past few days in light of the Kaepernick story. For Boyer, hearing the anthem played before his one preseason game was one that made him overcome with emotion and made him break out in tears.
“That moment meant so much more to me than even playing in the game did, and to be honest, if I had noticed my teammate sitting on the bench, it would have really hurt me,” Boyer said.
The debate among Kaepernick in the military community has raged on. But it’s not one-sided, you’ll find. There are plenty of veterans who support his protest, as this Twitter hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick shows.
And in the end, Boyer stands beside Kaepernick. He’s trying to come to grips with a protest that from his perspective goes against the very thing he fought for, but Boyer said he knows deep down that courage — like the anthem — means different things to different people. And that there is a good fight worth fighting here that is driving Kaepernick to do what he’s doing.
“I’m not judging you for standing up for what you believe in. It’s your inalienable right,” Boyer said. “What you are doing takes a lot of courage, and I’d be lying if I said I knew what it was like to walk around in your shoes. I’ve never had to deal with prejudice because of the color of my skin, and for me to say I can relate to what you’ve gone through is as ignorant as someone who’s never been in a combat zone telling me they understand what it’s like to go to war.”
How about that? A measured response from someone whose first reaction was anger. No matter which side you find yourself on in this Kaepernick debate — and there might be more than two sides — it’s a worthy read. Sometimes it’s good to filter through emotions before reacting. Boyer displays that pretty brilliantly.
– – – – – – –