TEXAS - When Colin Kaepernick began sitting during the national anthem last year, he made his position clear: he could no longer stand to honor the flag of a country that oppresses people of color.
This started in the wake of several cases of police using excessive force against African-Americans.
As the controversy grew, sitting turned to kneeling, and now, the nation has a full-blown firestorm, fueled by a president's ire and a nation full of veterans who feel Kaepernick and NFL players are disrespecting their service.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, he’d say ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired’” said President Donald Trump during a September rally in Alabama.
However surprising it may be, the man responsible for Kaepernick kneeling is a combat veteran and improbable UT football player who simply won't take no for an answer.
Nate Boyer couldn't fathom why his favorite team's quarterback chose to sit during the national anthem last August.
"I was angry and hurt at first to see Colin sitting," said Boyer. "I didn’t understand why."
That anger was born of service to his country in the form of six years in the Army as a Green Beret. He's a man who makes the impossible possible.
"‘No’ is one of my favorite words. Proving people wrong has … become an obsession of mine," said Boyer.
After the Army, Boyer defied 'no' again, not on the battlefield but on a football field. He enrolled at the University of Texas and played as walk on for the Longhorns, even though he was too short, too slow and had never played football in his life.
"I scrambled to find a way on the field via long snapping - the thankless job that nobody wants to do," he said.
It seemed nobody wanted to defend Kaepernick for sitting during the anthem, either; certainly not someone in the military, and certainly not Boyer. But Boyer did want Kaepernick to know how his actions affected veterans.
"So, I wrote an open letter, and it was basically just as if Colin were sitting right where you are sitting and that I had five minutes to tell him a little bit about me and how I’m a fan of his and how I know this isn’t about the troops," he said.
"It’s not about hating America, but I do want to try to understand, try to work together, because I want to see you stand again and stand again because you feel the same way that I feel about our country," continued Boyer.
The Army Times published that letter, Kaepernick read it and invited Boyer to meet with him in San Diego.
"We talked more about how people in my community were reacting to this," said Boyer. "What else can you do? Because sitting isolated like that, to me, it looks like you don’t care."
But Kaepernick did care and cared enough to spend two hours with Boyer. They talked, listened and worked something out.
"We found a compromise or a middle ground, whatever you want to call it. He would kneel alongside his teammates that night for the anthem and I told him I’d stand next to him if he did that," said Boyer.
It was Boyer's idea. It was a military man who asked Colin Kaepernick to kneel for the national anthem.
"People take a knee to pray. We take a knee in front of one of our fallen service members' grave to pay our respects," explained Boyer. "I think it’s more respectful. Of course, that's just my opinion."
Some of Boyer's fellow veterans share that opinion.
"Colin listened. He heard that, and that’s the point. This is a conversation. He’s not just trying to disrespect the country, and he’s definitely not disrespecting the troops," said Shannon Corbeil, a U.S. Air Force veteran.
“It’s his right to protest. We serve in the military to preserve the rights of the citizens, and we serve in the military to protect the Constitution of the United States,” said Samuel Goodwin, a U.S. Air Force veteran.
Of course, not everyone who has served agrees.
"I'd like him (Kaepernick) to apologize to everybody, to the country for doing that to the flag and to the anthem," said Geoff Reeves, a retired Navy Seal.
"The consequences of his protest is the disgrace and disrespect of a symbol that represents freedom and unity and all the men and women that have fought and died to retain the greatness that America truly has and has always had," said Jake Murillo, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.
While most of the disagreement is against Kaepernick, Boyer has his own critics, too.
"The downside of that is that a lot of people look at me and sort of blame me for these protests now," said Boyer.
He isn't interested in playing the blame game.
“I’ve had so many people tell me, ‘Pick a side, you have to pick a side.’ I’m like, no. This isn’t something to win or lose," explained Boyer. “We got to do better.”
Boyer hasn't talked to Kaepernick since the Super Bowl in February. Boyer says he thinks it's time for Kaepernick, who's been silent for a long time, to come forward and discuss these issues again.
On Friday, Boyer penned another open letter, this one carried by ESPN.com.
In that letter, he says it would be great for the country if Kaepernick and President Trump would meet face-to-face.
Nate Boyer did have more to say on the subject. An extended interview can be found here.
Other veterans also weighed in alongside Boyer in a roundtable discussion, which can be found here.