HBO Colin Kaepernick, Nate Boyer

After a weekend in which Donald Trump's criticism only served to inspire more NFL players to protest during the national anthem, it is worth remembering that Colin Kaepernick's campaign against police brutality and unjust treatment of minorities didn't begin by taking a knee.

Kaepernick sat on the 49ers bench during the anthem for the first three exhibition games last year.

Then he met with Nate Boyer, the former Green Beret who had served six years in Iraq and Afghanistan, then became a walk-on at Texas. Boyer, a long snapper for the Seahawks during the 2015 NFL preseason, showed Kaepernick a text that he had received from a friend in the Special Forces. Addressing Kaepernick's decision to sit for the anthem, the text read:

"Nate, I was just standing on the tarmac as the plane came back from Afghanistan to drop off a coffin that was draped in an American flag of one of our brothers. And I just couldn't stop looking at Staff Sgt. Thompson's wife and just seeing the grief and the pain, and I got filled with rage for anybody that disrespects what we are fighting for and what we stand for."

"And at that moment, I saw it in his eyes," Boyer said of Kaepernick. "It really affected him emotionally. It had a big impact. His next words were, 'I want to do something different.' We sort of came to a middle ground, where he would take a knee alongside his teammates. Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother's grave to show respect."

Boyer shared this story on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel last year. After their meeting, Boyer stood beside Kaepernick for the anthem at the 49ers' exhibition finale in San Diego.

"I was told I was a disgrace to the Green Beret," Boyer said. "That hurts. It really does. But then I also had a lot of people in the military say, 'I think you're on to something.'"

During an appearance Monday on ESPN, Boyer said it always hurts him personally to see protests during the anthem but he respects the rights of those who choose to express themselves that way.

"My biggest fear in this whole process in what's going on right now is that a lot of these guys are now just protesting the president," Boyer said in an interview with ESPN's Michael Eaves. "I don't think during the national anthem is the time to protest the president because the president isn't the national anthem. The national anthem and the flag don't represent one man. It represents 350 million Americans, and we're all so diverse, man. Whether you're black, white, gay, straight, Republican, Democrat, any religion -- it doesn't matter. It represents you."


 

Story continues below