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

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.

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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:

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."

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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