Former Green Beret who advised Colin Kaepernick to kneel in protest responds to Drew Brees' comments

Nate Boyer, the former Green Beret who worked with Colin Kaepernick and advised him to kneel during the national anthem to protest social injustices during the 2016 season, spoke out on Thursday after Drew Brees’ controversial comments on the issue this week.

Brees, in an interview with Yahoo Finance on Wednesday, was asked about how the league should react if players start protesting that way again this season. The New Orleans Saints quarterback responded by saying that he would “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag,” which sparked widespread backlash in the sports world. 

Boyer — a former Texas long snapper who briefly played for the Seattle Seahawks and helped Kaepernick come up with a peaceful and respectful way to protest in 2016 — said on 97.3 The Fan in San Diego that he didn’t think Brees meant to “ostracize himself” with those comments.

They also, however, prove that there is still work to be done to make sure that the true message of those protests isn’t lost.

“I'll just speak on the Drew Brees thing really quickly — he’s a really good dude, man. He does a lot for the city of New Orleans, for the community, whether it’s post-Katrina or helping secure voting rights for formerly incarcerated people in Louisiana — he helped lead that charge with some of the Saints’ players,” Boyer said on 97.3 The Fan, via USA Today. “Even what he said in his response, well, he said what he said, so I don’t know what he meant exactly. But I absolutely don’t think he meant to ostracize himself or make this issue about something that it’s not.

“But the fact of the matter is that we’ve gotta — for these guys that are working really hard in the league, a lot of these players — make sure that the narrative is understood that the protests are about racial inequality, social injustice and policy brutality and that kneeling during the anthem was a mechanism to raise that attention and to get those voices heard. But it’s not about disrespecting the flag or disrespecting the military, and I think Drew knows that.”

Brees apologized on Thursday morning in an Instagram post following harsh criticism from all corners of the sports world, including from his own teammates. 

“I would like to apologize to my friends, teammates, the City of New Orleans, the black community, NFL community and anyone I hurt with my comments yesterday,” Brees wrote, in part. “In speaking with some of you, it breaks my heart to know the pain I have caused.

“In an attempt to talk about respect, unity, and solidarity centered around the American flag and the national anthem, I made comments that were insensitive and completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country. They lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy. Instead, those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character.”

Eric Reid, left and Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers kneel on the sideline during the national anthem as free agent and former Green Beret Nate Boyer, right, stands before a game against the San Diego Chargers in 2016. (Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

‘Not a bad thing to feel patriotic’

A big part of Brees’ feelings on the issue, he said in his initial comments on Wednesday, had to do with the sacrifices many Americans — including his two grandfathers who had fought in World War II — have made for the country. Oftentimes during the national anthem, Brees said, he gets emotional and overwhelmed thinking about it.

Boyer said he gets why Brees feels that way. He and countless other Americans do, too. 

But that doesn’t mean that the feeling is universal — which is something Brees and others, Boyer said, need to understand.

“I also understand what he was talking about in the other part of that video when the anthem plays, because I feel the same way,” Boyer said on 97.3 The Fan, via USA Today. “And that’s not a bad thing to feel patriotic. It’s not a bad thing to love your country and want to stand with your hand on your heart.

“But if other people don’t feel the same way, it’s just that acknowledgement and understanding that, ‘Hey, I’ll stand for you, and until you feel that way, maybe you shouldn’t. But when you do, I’m looking forward to the day that you feel the same way that I do and I’ll keep fighting to make it happen until that day comes.’”

While Boyer knows that there has been plenty of progress on this issue, and in civil rights in general in the United States, he said it’s clear that there is still work to be done.

Settling for where we’re at now, he said, isn’t the America he knows.

“I think we have come quite a long ways in our few hundred years of existence, but we still have a long way to go. It’s not perfect,” Boyer told Yahoo Sports. “For us to just sit back and be like, ‘Well it’s good enough,’ that’s not American. That’s not who we are. We’re not the ‘good enough’ people. We keep fighting until the issue is fully resolved and it’s fixed and it’s better and everybody feels truly equal. That’s what I stand for, that’s why I joined the military. That’s what we have to do.”

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