In August 2016, former UT football player Nate Boyer wrote to Colin Kaepernick, who had been criticized for choosing to sit during the national anthem. Boyer, a former Green Beret, told Kaepernick that he understood Kaepernick’s desire to protest police brutality towards African-Americans, but sitting down during the anthem bothered him — it could be viewed as disrespectful to members of the military.
“We sorta came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his teammate,” Boyer told HBO in a September 2016 interview. “Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect.”
President Donald Trump called for NFL owners to fire players who don’t stand for the anthem during a speech in Alabama on Sept. 22. In the days following, Trump issued several tweets calling for a boycott of the NFL, and the issue again gained national attention.
Against this backdrop, UT football players have spoken out.
“This country that supports liberty and living the American dream is not fulfilling that,” sophomore defensive back Chase Moore said. “We’re not living up to what we say we want to do, so I have to support Colin Kaepernick.”
Junior linebacker Cameron Townsend said he also supports the protests.
“I don’t think any of the protests are a stab at the troops,” Townsend said. “People try to steer away from what’s actually in front of them and put it on something else to make the people that are protesting feel like they’re doing something wrong.”
Townsend said taking a knee during the national anthem is controversial but necessary.
“I don’t think it’s a secret … that black people are mistreated in America.” Townsend said. “If this is the way to get people’s attention, then that’s just what you have to do.”
Both players said they would kneel during the national anthem if they could, but UT football players are not on the field during the anthem.
Freshman linebacker Cort Jaquess said although some veterans have voiced support of the protest, he believes it is offensive to the military and should be done differently.
“Personally, I don’t appreciate the kneeling during the anthem,” Jaquess said. “I understand they’re trying to make a point … but I think it’s disrespectful.”
Moore said change will come over time and with support.
“In order to change the institution (of racism), you need someone to stand with you,” Moore said.