HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Nate Boyer, a former long snapper for the Seattle Seahawks, played in just one career NFL game: a preseason contest in 2015. However, it was during a different preseason game, one in which he did not even suit-up, when Boyer helped make a lasting impression on the NFL.
"The conversation has definitely been elevated over the last four years," Boyer told News 3 Sports Director Adam Winkler via Zoom. "But over the last 400 years, I think it's probably been had quite a bit too."
Tuesday September 1st marks exactly four years since NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the playing of the national anthem. It happened prior to a San Francisco 49ers preseason game at San Diego. Kaepernick, who has been out of the league since 2016, initially sat on his team's bench during the anthem.
However, he chose to kneel following a conversation and a compromise with Boyer. The former active-duty Green Beret in the United States Army penned an open letter to the quarterback. Two days later, following a meeting between the two men at the 49ers' team hotel, Boyer stood next to Kaepernick as he kneeled.
"I don't agree with everything he's said and done," Boyer, who founded Merging Vets & Players (MVP) in 2015, admitted. "But what's important to me and I think a lot of people in this country, most people in this country, is having conversations and doing better."
Kaepernick said his demonstrations were because the country "oppresses Black people and people of color." Four years later, as athletes from multiple sports continue to protest social injustice and police brutality, Boyer explains it's not a black & white or red & blue issue.
"Just because you stand [for the anthem], it doesn't mean you think Black lives don't matter," Boyer pointed out. "Just because you kneel, it doesn't necessarily mean you think all cops are bad or this is a racist country."
One week from this Sunday, the first Sunday of the NFL season, many players across the league are expected to protest during the national anthem. Nate has a message both for them, and for the fans.
"You have every right to feel however you feel," Boyer, a partner with Waterboys.org - founded by former UVA star Chris Long & committed to giving back to the community through focused efforts around clean water, military appreciation, homelessness and youth in need, explained. "As long as you are willing to educate yourself and understand the real why. They are not protesting the flag itself, or the anthem itself. And from a players perspective: I'm all for peaceful protests if there's action behind it. There has to be action behind it - positive action, meaningful action."
Boyer may have only worn an NFL uniform for one game, but it's his experience in another uniform that put him in the position to impact the NFL during a preseason game exactly four years ago.