Former University of Texas long snapper Nate Boyer, a U.S. Army Green Beret whose attempt to make the NFL resulted in a single 2015 preseason game with the Seattle Seahawks at the age of 34, played a significant role in bringing former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest to light.
After Kaepernick sat on the bench before a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers in 2016, Boyer met with the QB at his next game in San Diego, and the two found common ground. Boyer convinced Kaepernick that kneeling during the national anthem was a way to honor those who gave their lives for the country while communicating his protest of racial inequality and social injustice.
Boyer has done well to communicate his mixed feelings on the subject, urging people on either side of the issue to better understand where the other is coming from — most notably, that athletes are “not protesting the anthem itself, they are demonstrating during the anthem.” He doesn’t necessarily agree with Kaepernick’s form of protest, but he supports (and fought for) his freedom to express it.
It is with all this in mind that Boyer finds Nike’s advertising campaign built around Kaepernick “a little bit off-putting,” specifically the slogan, “Believe in something, even it means sacrificing everything.”
“It’s dangerous territory to suggest something like that, just because for me, when I hear ‘sacrifice everything,’ the last thing I think about is money,” Boyer told Seattle’s KIRO Radio. “We’ve been taught since we were children that money isn’t everything, and if it’s a matter of sacrificing money or your brand, that’s far different than sacrificing your life. So, when I see that word everything, that’s what strikes me to be a little bit off-putting for a lot of people not only in the veteran community, but people in general.”
“Nike is a business. They’re trying to sell sneakers. I don’t think in our history we’ve really seen a revolutionary who has a brand sponsor, as far as I know. Colin is more of a pop-culture icon, I’d say. He’s a very big one, and he’s obviously a a huge advocate and a voice to many voiceless. But at the same time, this is a very different situation, and I don’t think Nike would do this if they didn’t think it was profitable. … I’m not saying he’s not deserving at all, that’s not what I’m saying — what I’m saying is all of those brands and nonprofits are absolutely capitalizing on his fame.”
‘They are not protesting the anthem’
Like most everyone who supports Kaepernick’s cause, Boyer does not want Nike’s slogan to distract from the former NFL quarterback’s quest for social justice. He too would like to see an end to police brutality and other forms of racism in America, and he doesn’t want the ad campaign to serve as another wedge to further divide those who already consider Kaepernick’s protest an unpatriotic one.
“The men who have followed in Kaepernick’s footsteps say they are not protesting the anthem itself, they are demonstrating during the anthem,” Boyer, who made the media rounds on Friday, wrote in an NBC News op-ed piece. “It’s an important distinction to understand. Personally, I do not endorse Kaepernick’s method of protest but I absolutely support his right to do so. That is an unpopular place to stand these days, in the radical middle, defending someone you somewhat disagree with.
“It’s hard for me to grasp why this is so difficult for people (from both ends of the political spectrum) to understand. It’s OK to be different, it’s what makes us the same — embrace it and remember that nobody’s a perfect patriot, especially not me.”
‘This is the most divided I’ve felt’
It is that divide that bothers Boyer most. How can something that should be so unifying — eradicating restrictions on our freedoms — be so divisive? Miscommunication is the root cause, suggested Boyer, who experienced this firsthand when fellow soldiers criticized him for his support for Kaepernick.
“Since I was born, this is the most divided I’ve felt,” Boyer told The Athletic’s Jay Glazer on Friday. “I’m more stressed on a daily basis over the last two years about this (expletive) than I ever was with bullets getting shot at me. I feel this horrible tension all the time, and part of that is I don’t want people to hate. I don’t want to feel that vitriol toward me, toward my country, toward people that I care about and it’s hard to stop paying attention to that stuff. I want to ignore it. I want to just rise above it and move on but at the same time I feel a responsibility to my fellow countrymen, to my veteran community, to not quit on this, especially since I’ve been involved in it for a couple of years. But with that, there comes a lot of stress. Am I letting my brothers down? I wonder that every day, and it bothers me.”
Former Green Beret and long snapper Nate Boyer convinced Colin Kaepernick to take a knee during the national anthem. He explains why.
“Any of these players that you’re pissed off about for protesting, just Google them,” Boyer added in a video interview with The Players’ Tribune. “It was like this whole thing with LeBron James. It was this ‘shut up and dribble‘ thing, and then just a few months later, he’s opening this $50 million school or whatever it is for these underprivileged kids with free tuition, with an opportunity to go to college. Any player who’s demonstrating, that I’ve met at least, is doing something off the field involving making the situation better.”
‘I really want to call out the American citizens’
That includes Kaepernick, who has donated more than $1 million to charities supporting his cause. (We should also point out that Nike is donating to Kaepernick’s “Know Your Rights” campaign as part of his endorsement deal.) Let this be the unifying ground we find in this conversation, rather than allowing certain “people in power” to politicize the issue and contort it into something contentious.
“People in power almost manipulate us or pull us into these silly arguments when so many of us know that the issue is not about protesting the national anthem,” Boyer told The Players’ Tribune. “I really want to call out the American citizens more than anybody in office or in high places or whatever, because I just believe we can be bigger than that and we’re smarter than that.”
You would think.
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