Nate Boyer has never been one to follow the norms.
The Green Beret turned NFL long-snapper turned lightning rod during the Colin Kaepernick national anthem debate has always lived on his own terms.
"For me, its about trying new things and listening," Boyer, of Los Angeles, told The Bismarck Tribune.
"I mean, unconventional warfare is what we try to do in the Special Forces and I try to -- without the warfare part -- I try to live a little bit unconventionally when I'm back home, you know -- that same kind of attitude," he said.
Boyer, along with a comedian and a Harvard Business School graduate, will headline this Saturday's GameChanger Ideas Festival at the Belle Mehus Auditorium in Bismarck. The annual event, in its sixth year, is modeled after the Aspen Ideas Festival where innovative thinkers share bold ideas to a curious audience.
Boyer was thrust into the national spotlight after he wrote an open letter to Colin Kaepernick that published in the Army Times, explaining how he felt about the decision by the then-quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers to sit during the national anthem.
In the emotional letter, Boyer didn't offer a hard stance on the protest. Rather, he expressed anger in his initial reaction toward the quarterback's method of protest but said he understood where Kaepernick was coming from and defended his right to protest -- a right for which he had fought.
"Through that letter Colin reached out to me," Boyer said. "We ended up meeting, and that’s where the kneeling came from versus sitting."
Kneeling was seen as a compromise between Boyer, who stood for the anthem, and Kaepernick, who sat on the bench.
Boyer, who grew up in the San Francisco area and had a short stint in the NFL, playing one preseason game for the Seattle Seahawks against the Denver Broncos in 2015, said his letter wasn't really aimed at Kaepernick.
"It was more the whole country than it was for Colin," he said.
"Like hey, real quick, this is what I think, this is what I feel, this is what I believe, this is why I feel the way that I do based on my experiences," he said. "But I’m not you, I'm not going to judge you for that (sitting during the anthem). It's your right to do what you're doing, and it’s a right that I fought for, whether I like it (the anthem protest) or not."
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He didn't know what to expect after the letter was published but knew whatever the outcome was, he could handle it.
"I was getting sort of backlash from both sides of the argument -- the far right and the far left -- but I think most people, whether they lean left or right, are reasonable and appreciated what I was trying to do," Boyer said. "I thought that I did the right thing and did the best I could do."
Trying his best is a theme that has followed him throughout his life.
Boyer spent time in 2004 working at a refugee camp in Darfur, Sudan. He said his experience there, serving others, pushed him to join the military.
Boyer deployed with the Special Forces several times, including stints in Iraq and Afghanistan. He would deploy during his summer break while attending the University of Texas, where he walked onto the nationally recognized college football team without any prior football experience.
He said there are misconceptions about the armed forces, which he blames in part on Hollywood.
"Just because we're disciplined and we follow orders and all that, it doesn’t mean that people in the military don’t think for themselves," he said.
"I mean, in the Army Special Forces, it's 12-man teams and you're on your own. You have to be able to think for yourself and you have quite a bit of responsibility. Relying on a small team like that, working with Afghanis, Iraqis, with all the language and cultural barriers, you have to think outside the box. You have to be very fluid and kind of roll with the changes and improvise, adapt and overcome," Boyer said.
"I think in this modern era you really have to be a free thinker, you have to be creative to be able to solve problems," he said.
Boyer said he's not sure what he'll talk about at the GameChanger Ideas Festival. He's slated for an on-stage interview at 9:25 a.m. on freedom of speech.
"I never like to script anything. I always like to feel things out and speak from the heart," he said. "I'll probably tell a little bit about my story and what I think will resonate from that."