You've heard the story of how Colin Kaepernick's kneeling during the national anthem started a national firestorm. On Sunday night, we'll give you the rest of the story. How Nate Boyer, a former Texas Longhorn and Green Beret started the whole thing.
Letter to Colin Kaepernick from Nate Boyer (Originally published in Army Times)
I'm a big fan. I've been pulling for you ever since I first saw you play in the 2012 preseason. I was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and have been a die-hard 49ers fan as long as I can remember – growing up, I was Joe Montana for Halloween two years straight.
I proudly wore the red and gold for an afternoon when I had a tryout with the 49ers last spring. I ultimately ended up in training camp with the Seattle Seahawks, but I'll never forget the one day I got to be a 49er.
I don't know a lot, but I do know that I catch a lot of flak for expressing my opinions, something you are now very familiar with. I also know you support the military – "God Bless Our Troops" is written on the football that you and former 49er teammate Colt McCoy signed for one of the charities I work with. The football's currently sitting in my parents' house; my dad bid the highest at the charity's auction.
Unfortunately, I also know that racism still exists in our country, as it does in every other country on this planet, and I hate that I know that. I hate the third verse of our national anthem, but thankfully we don’t sing that verse anymore. I hate that at times I feel guilty for being white.
In 2004, I witnessed genocide firsthand in the Darfur region of Sudan. The fact that hate and oppression still exist at that level in our world really hurts me. I met countless young Africans who were enamored with America and the opportunities that exist here. Those people would have given anything to experience what I had grown up with, even just for one day.
I joined the Army upon returning to the U.S. because I believed people like that were worth fighting for. De Oppresso Liber ("To Free the Oppressed") is the Army Special Forces motto, and the reason I wanted to become a Green Beret. I didn't enlist to fight for what we already have here; I did it because I wanted to fight for what those people didn't have there: Freedom.
I am in no way political, but I'm proud that we have an African-American president, and that I got to serve under him. Overcoming racism at home is a slow process, and we still have a long way to go, but most of us are trying. That's what sets us apart from so many other places. In this country, no matter who you are, where you come from, what color you are, you can try.
During college football games, both teams usually wait in the locker room until after the national anthem. That always bothered me. Leading the team out of the tunnel while carrying the American flag meant a lot, but I still regretted not being out there to stand for that song.
The only time I got to stand on the sideline for the anthem was during my one and only NFL preseason game, against the Denver Broncos. As I ran out of the tunnel with the American flag I could feel myself swelling with pride, and as I stood on the sideline with my hand on my heart as the anthem began, that swelling burst into tears.
I thought about how far I’d come and the men I’d fought alongside who didn’t make it back. I thought about those overseas who were risking their lives at that very moment. I selfishly thought about what I had sacrificed to get to where I was, and while I knew I had little to no chance of making the Seahawks’ roster as a 34-year-old rookie, I was trying.
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.
I’m not judging you for standing up for what you believe in. It’s your inalienable right. 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.
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. 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.
There are already plenty people fighting fire with fire, and it’s just not helping anyone or anything. So I’m just going to keep listening, with an open mind.
I look forward to the day you're inspired to once again stand during our national anthem. I'll be standing right there next to you. Keep on trying … De Oppresso Liber.
More than a year after his first open letter to Kaepernick, Boyer released this second letter:
Dear Every Single American,
Every. Single. American. Including President Trump, Colin Kaepernick, and my brothers in arms overseas who are wondering, "what in the hell is going on back there?" I'm sitting in the same chair, in the same apartment that I sat in almost a year ago when I wrote an open letter to Colin Kaepernick. I was hurt when I saw him sitting on the bench during the national anthem, but I'm much more hurt now. Not by him, not by where we're at now with the protests, but by us.
Simply put, it seems like we just hate each other; and that is far more painful to me than any protest, or demonstration, or rally, or tweet. We're told to pick a side, there's a line drawn in the sand "are you with us or against us?" It's just not who we are, or at least who we're supposed to be; we're supposed to be better than that, we're Americans. This doesn't even seem to be about right or wrong, but more about right or left.
Today it feels like this national divide isn't even really about the anthem, or the flag, or kneeling, or sitting, or fists in the air. It's not about President Donald Trump, it's not about Colin Kaepernick, it's not about the military, or even police brutality. It feels like it's about winning. That's what makes America so great, our sheer competitiveness. We're winners, and we won't quit until victory is ours.
We see it in sports everyday, we "live and die" by the outcomes of our teams. That desire to win at all cost is costing us greatly now among our neighbors. This winning mentality seems to have spilled over into an obsession with being right and not willing to admit that maybe, just maybe we were wrong. We repeat mantras to ourselves like, "no matter what I will never ever surrender."
Earlier this week I sat down with a group of five Combat Arms and Special Operations Veterans. The round table discussed our individual feelings on the flag, the anthem, and the players who knelt when it was played. We all had very different takes, but what surprised me most at the end of the discussion was that we all agreed on one thing. Colin Kaepernick and President Trump should be the ones uniting our country together. Wait...what? I know it sounds crazy, but maybe that's exactly what we need to see. Maybe that's how we start to heal. Two men sit in a room and talk, simple as that.
That's how it all started with Colin and I, neither of us knew that kneeling would be the result of our conversation. Colin wanted to sit, I wanted him to stand, and so we found a common ground on a knee alongside his teammates. I believe that progress and real change happens in this world when you reach across the divide, you build a bridge, you swallow your pride, you open your mind, you embrace what you don't understand, and ultimately you surrender.
Now I don't pretend to speak for everyone who fought overseas, many veterans rightfully disagree with my position. But I do feel that I echo the sentiments of most war fighters when I say that what we hope for more than anything right now in America is unity. To deploy overseas, train, live with, fight alongside, and ultimately defend foreigners that you have little in common with is truly a challenging task. But returning home to a country that is so divided, so judgmental, and so hateful of one another is almost as difficult to deal with as burying a fallen comrade. In fact we're still losing our brothers in arms overseas right now and it's hardly mentioned it in the media; but that's OK, we don't risk our lives and sacrifice so much for fanfare or recognition. It's not at all why we do what we do. We do what we do because you are worth it, because we love you.
I would love for those two leaders to have that conversation, but more than anything I just want us to love one another again. One great thing about freedom is that you get to choose everyday how you treat your neighbor. This IS the best country in the world, but we can always do better. I'm laying it all out there because I have to, I swore to defend this land and its people, and I will die trying. I know some people will hate this (we love to hate things these days), and I'll get called a disgrace to the Green Beret once again. But I don't care, the United States means more to me than any of that.
Over the past year I've come across veterans from various walks of life. We may actually be the most diverse sub-culture in the America. Since I myself am a Green Beret, I want to share with you a couple of messages that were sent to me from men in my former unit. One of them is white, and one of them is black:
"Hey brother. At first I was with you on the Kaepernick issue. However, I just stood in formation while one of our brothers was pulled off a plane with our nation's flag draped over the coffin. I had to fight back tears as I saw the pain in the eyes of Staff Sergeant T's wife and family. While I would like to sit here and tell you that I rose above it all, I have to be honest. My heart filled with rage. Rage for anyone who takes for granted the ideals and symbols that we fight and die for."
"Hey Brother, this is J. I spent nearly 18 years in 10th Special Forces Group and wish I had an opportunity to meet a brother like yourself. I just want to say I appreciate your views on this national anthem and flag issue. I love our country, but at the same time I have to take the time to tell my sons to act a certain way out of fear for their lives when dealing with police officers. Most of my neighbors and friends here in MD are law enforcement personnel and will tell you they also have to act a certain way to avoid confrontation and situations that normally don't occur for those that are not of color. Not all officers are bad, the majority I believe are good and poor training is attributed to some of these issues we hear of. I really just want to thank you for your taking the time out to understand and convincing him to take a knee and not sit out on what we have fought for. God Bless You Bro!"
Different backgrounds, different experiences, different colors, but at the end of the day they just want the same basic things for their families.
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
-- Nate Boyer