The national debate continues over San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision not to stand for the national anthem during a preseason NFL game.
Kaepernick sat in protest over what he perceives as mistreatment of African Americans in the U.S., a decision which millions have shared their opinions on in the days since, including former Texas Longhorns linebacker Emmanuel Acho, who shared his thoughts via Twitter.
Now another former ‘Horn with a different perspective has also weighed in: 35-year-old Green Beret-turned-long snapper Nate Boyer via the Army Times.
Boyer is a veteran of three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he served as a Special Forces soldier. He then played for Texas from 2010 to 2014, appearing in 38 straight contests as a long snapper despite having no prior football experience.
Boyer also was named Academic All-Big 12 for three years and the conference’s 2013 sportsperson of the year, and had a very brief stint with the Seattle Seahawks last season.
Noting a connection to the 49ers because he was raised in the Bay Area, Boyer recollects his day in training camp with San Francisco and his personal experience with Kaepernick’s support of the military:
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.
This is where things verge off from what one might expect a veteran to say — after noting the racism still present in the country and in the national anthem, Boyer once again reflects on his own experiences:
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.
In Boyer’s time at Texas and short stint in the NFL, his experience with the national anthem was a profound one after everything that he had been through in his life due to his experiences in Darfur and as an elite member of the armed forces.
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.
Many veterans and gold star families have reacted with understandable anger towards Kaepernick and his stance. It even happened with Boyer. But then he moved past it:
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.
Boyer’s words are thoughtful and open, and Acho himself reacted with a message of support.
BY FAR the toughest dude I played w/ delivers an excellent message. Your nxt 3 minutes can't find better use. Read! https://t.co/6AFGbkP3lz— Emmanuel Acho (@thEMANacho) August 31, 2016
As a former 49ers fan, college football player, and soldier, Boyer certainly brings a perspective worth listening to as he sends a message of empathy for the current situation and hope for the future.