For the past ten days, the country has been embroiled in debate on social media and elsewhere over yet another divisive issue, i.e., whether NFL players show disrespect for the flag, the military and the country if they “take a knee” during the National Anthem. Whatever your position may be, there are valuable lessons to be learned from the back story concerning the relationship between Colin Kaepernick and Nate Boyer, a story which many people have not yet heard.

On August 30th, 2016, after Kaepernick had sat quietly on the bench during the National Anthem for three consecutive pre-season games, Boyer — a former Army Green Beret who was briefly signed as a free agent by the Seattle Seahawks in 2015 — wrote an open letter to Kaepernick, which read, in part, as follows:

“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 is 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.”

Kaepernick invited Boyer to get together and the two had a 90 minute conversation, during which Boyer shared a text from a good friend, who was still in the Special Forces. Kaepernick was profoundly impacted and told Boyer he wanted to do something different, something that would not show disrespect for the military. Together, they came to a “middle ground” — thereafter Kaepernick would “take a knee” alongside his teammates, rather than sit silently on the bench, during the playing of the National Anthem.

Why “take a knee?” Boyer explains in this clip from Real Time With Bryant Gumbel.

Although Boyer’s knee-jerk reaction was anger toward Kaepernick, he chose instead to listen, empathize and share his concerns. Kaepernick reciprocated by meeting with Boyer, truly listening to what he had to say and then working with him to find a compromise that both felt would draw attention to social injustice without showing disrespect for the flag, the military, or the country.

Whether you support NFL players who “take a knee,” or side with those who label them “jerks,” surely we can all agree it would be far better for the country if our leaders, and the rest of us, spent more time listening and less time reacting.

As always, it would be my pleasure to assist you and your clients in the dispute resolution process. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of service.

Best regards,

Floyd J. Siegal

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