Veteran and former NFL player Nate Boyer says media, fans are missing the point of player protests

In August of 2016, then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a stand by taking a seat.

Kaepernick chose to remain seated on the bench during the playing of the national anthem prior to his team's final preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. He later explained that his actions were done in protest of police brutality and social injustices people of color face in the United States. It wasn't the first time Kaepernick had made the move, but this time, people noticed. 

Nate Boyer, a U.S. Army veteran and former NFL long snapper, was one of those people. 

SEE ALSO: NFL releases statement on Kaepernick, Nike ad

Boyer, a Green Beret, was moved to write an open letter to Kaepernick about his feelings on the protest. The letter made its way to the quarterback, who then reached out to Boyer to talk. The ensuing discussion between the two prompted Kaepernick to kneel, rather than sit, the next time he protested -- and the next time, and the next time. 

"Kneeling was more respectful, in my eyes," Boyer told AOL.com, emphasizing that that was just his opinion and not the opinion of all veterans. "He cared enough to listen to what I had to say and adjust his method of protest."

"I want everybody to stand. I do, and I always have," he continued. "I don't want people to protest, I don't want people to kneel, but that's the way they feel."

Eric Reid, Colin Kaepernick and Nate Boyer during the playing of the national anthem on September 1, 2016. (Photo via Getty Images)

After the 2016 season, Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers and became a free agent. He hasn't played in the NFL since, but his protests have been continued by other players around the league. Politicians, journalists and fans alike have taken an interest in the actions players take during the anthem, but Boyer says they're largely missing the point. 

"They're focusing on the gesture of the protest itself, not the heart of it," he said. 

One of the most vocal critics of the protests is United States President Donald Trump, who maintains a strong belief that everyone should stand for the national anthem. On Monday, Boyer tweeted out that an interview he had scheduled to discuss the protests was canceled seemingly because of a lack of tweets from the president. 

"It's not newsworthy unless the president tweets about it," the outspoken veteran said about the cancelation. "It's just funny. It's funny that that's where we're at."

Trump has repeatedly taken to Twitter to air his grievances with NFL players who have emulated Kaepernick's protests over the past two seasons. The rift between Trump and the athletes has gotten so large that many players and teams are electing to skip the customary visit to the White House after winning a championship.

Earlier this year, Trump notably disinvited the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles from attending the planned ceremony after many players said they wouldn't make the trip.

See some of the president's related comments: 

17 PHOTOS
Trump's tweets on the NFL, player protests
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Trump's tweets on the NFL, player protests
Wow, NFL first game ratings are way down over an already really bad last year comparison. Viewership declined 13%,… https://t.co/niWIFRXL8H
Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!
A big salute to Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, who will BENCH players who disrespect our Flag."Stand for Anthem or sit for game!"
Very important that NFL players STAND tomorrow, and always, for the playing of our National Anthem. Respect our Flag and our Country!
Two dozen NFL players continue to kneel during the National Anthem, showing total disrespect to our Flag & Country. No leadership in NFL!
It is about time that Roger Goodell of the NFL is finally demanding that all players STAND for our great National Anthem-RESPECT OUR COUNTRY
.@NFL: Too much talk, not enough action. Stand for the National Anthem.
The Philadelphia Eagles Football Team was invited to the White House. Unfortunately, only a small number of players… https://t.co/umtKEd0dru
We will proudly be playing the National Anthem and other wonderful music celebrating our Country today at 3 P.M., T… https://t.co/frLsQzTjpP
Sports fans should never condone players that do not stand proud for their National Anthem or their Country. NFL should change policy!
The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!
Marshawn Lynch of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders stands for the Mexican Anthem and sits down to boos for our National An… https://t.co/5P18NSv8ZW
The NFL has all sorts of rules and regulations. The only way out for them is to set a rule that you can't kneel during our National Anthem!
The NFL is now thinking about a new idea - keeping teams in the Locker Room during the National Anthem next season.… https://t.co/tqZuHcaCyG
At least 24 players kneeling this weekend at NFL stadiums that are now having a very hard time filling up. The Amer… https://t.co/n0YsDlZQ0C
Ratings for NFL football are way down except before game starts, when people tune in to see whether or not our country will be disrespected!
Tremendous backlash against the NFL and its players for disrespect of our Country. #StandForOurAnthem🇺🇸
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The president, of course, isn't the only person that feels this way. Even Boyer admits that seeing players kneeling during the anthem still hurts him -- but as a veteran and a former player, he's able to see both sides of the coin. 

"Yes, the protest is not a protest of the anthem. It's a protest during the anthem," he said. "But for those people who say it's not about the anthem, that's also not true. When the Star-Spangled Banner was first played at sporting events, dating back 100 years ago to World War I, it was to honor the military."

"People are going to continue to be upset about it and they have every right to be. That's why [the players] are doing it though. They know it's going to be a lightning rod that brings attention to what they're talking about."

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NFL players, owners protest after criticism from Trump
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NFL players, owners protest after criticism from Trump
Sep 24, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts players kneel during the playing of the National Anthem before the game against the Cleveland Browns at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Baltimore Ravens players kneel for the American National anthem during the NFL International Series match between Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium on September 24, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 25: Members of the Dallas Cowboys link arms and kneel during the National Anthem before the start of the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 25, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan links arms with players during the national anthems before the match Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: (L-R) Wide recceivers Chris Moore and Breshad Perriman of the Baltimore Ravens pray prior to kickoff during the NFL match between The Jacksonville Jaguars and The Baltimore Ravens at Wembley Stadium on September 24, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Mitchell Gunn/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Jacksonville Jaguar players show their protest during the National Anthem during the NFL International Series match between Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium on September 24, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Patrick Omameh of the Jacksonville Jaguars kneels during the U.S. national anthem before the match Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars players kneel during the U.S. national anthem before the match Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars players kneel during the U.S. national anthem before the match Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Jacksonville Jaguar players show their protest during the National Anthem during the NFL International Series match between Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium on September 24, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: (Editors Note: This image has been turned black and white) Jacksonville Jaguars enter te stadium during the NFL International Series match between Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium on September 24, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Sep 24, 2017; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills players kneel in protest during the National Anthem before a game against the Denver Broncos at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Denver Bronco players kneel in protest during the National Anthem before a game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) and teammates stand next to service members holding a giant US flag during the national anthem prior to the game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; The Cleveland Browns team stand and kneel during the National Anthem before the start of their game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers link arms during the national anthem prior to the game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (44) middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead (59) running back Ameer Abdullah (21) outside linebacker Steve Longa (54) defensive end Jeremiah Ledbetter (98) defensive end Armonty Bryant (97) defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson (91) and defensive end Cornelius Washington (90) kneel during the national anthem before the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
September 24, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets players lock arms during the national anthem before the game against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Members of the Denver Broncos kneel during the playing of the national anthem prior to a game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; The Dallas Cowboys players, coaches and staff take a knee prior to the National Anthem before the game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; London, United Kingdom; Jacksonville Jaguars players kneel during the playing of the United Sates national anthem before a NFL International Series game against the Baltimore Ravens at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; Members of the New England Patriots take a knee during the national anthem before a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Some of the Miami Dolphins take a knee during the anthem prior to the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; Members of the New England Patriots kneel for the national anthem before the start of the game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars players kneel during the U.S. national anthem before the match Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Patrick Omameh of the Jacksonville Jaguars kneels during the U.S. national anthem before the match Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Sep 24, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; Oakland Raiders players sit on the bench during the national anthem prior to their game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder stands with cornerback Josh Norman (24) and cornerback Bashaud Breeland (26) and safety D.J. Swearinger (36) during the playing of the national anthem before the game between the Washington Redskins and the Oakland Raiders at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; Oakland Raiders players sit on the bench during the national anthem prior to their game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Carson, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Marcus Peters (22) protests next to running back Charcandrick West (35) and defensive tackle Roy Miller (98) during the National Anthem prior to the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at StubHub Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers tight end Lance Kendricks (84) and tight end Martellus Bennett (80) sit on the bench during the national anthem prior to the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Recording artist Meghan Linsey kneels after singing the national anthem before the game between the Tennessee Titans and the Seattle Seahawks at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
September 24, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets players lock arms during the national anthem before the game against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan links arms with players during the national anthems before the match Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 24: Members of the Chicago Bears stand arm-in-arm during the National Anthem before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Soldier Field on September 24, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 24: Justin Houston #50 of the Kansas City Chiefs is seen taking a knee during the National Anthem before the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at the StubHub Center on September 24, 2017 in Carson, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
NFL Football - Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens - NFL International Series - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 24, 2017 General view during the national anthems before the match Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers
At the start of the game protestors take a knee in support of the movement started by NFL player Colin Kaepernick, outside Lincoln Financial Field, in South Philadelphia, PA, on September 24, 2017. Similar protest are staged around the nation after US President Donald Trump named Kaepernick a Son of A Bitch at a recent rally. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 25: Strong safety Tyvon Branch #27 of the Arizona Cardinals links arms with staff and players during the National Anthem before the start of the NFL game against the Dallas Cowboys at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 25, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Boyer, who played college football at the University of Texas and spent time with the Seattle Seahawks, had high praise for several current NFL players who are taking their protests to the next level by doing work with politicians, law enforcement and in their communities. Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long and Kenny Stills are among those he applauded. 

"Working alongside law enforcement, working alongside those in office, that's how you really make change," Boyer said. "If you really want to see things improving, if you really do love our country, just make sure you're doing stuff off the field -- a lot."

With the NFL deciding to scrap its proposed policy and requirements for players during the anthem, it's unlikely that pregame protests will come to an end any time soon -- but Boyer emphasizes that it's the off-the-field actions that matter more than what's done on the sidelines, and urges fans to focus on the heart of the matter. 

"It's like you've got to choose between patriotism and open-mindedness," he says of the issue's divisiveness. "That's just ridiculous. You should be both."

"The one thing that's great about our country, through all of this stuff, no matter what side of the issue you stand on or what's happened in your past, you still have an opportunity to make change."

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