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.
Former Staff Sgt. Nate Boyer made multiple war-zone deployments as a Green Beret, including during the college football offseason while a student-athlete at the University of Texas. After long-snapping for the Longhorns, he was signed as a free agent by the Seattle Seahawks before the 2015 season. He is involved in multiple charitable causes, including Merging Vets and Players with Jay Glazer and Waterboys, founded by New England Patriots defensive end Chris Long.