On the surface, Kurt Streeter's story on Nate Boyer is an almost Bunyanesque tale about a man trying to change the world one adventure at a time. But the story also explores something simple and universal -- the question each of us faces of how long to hold on to our dreams, and at what cost.
In this story behind the story, Streeter explains how the place where he found Boyer at the end of his reporting process -- a futon on a second-story landing in a friend's apartment in Los Angeles -- helped shape his approach to Boyer's story:
HE WAS the most unusual NFL rookie I'd ever seen.
He hoped to win a position on the line but stood 5-foot-11 and struggled to reach 225 pounds. He was old: 34. He was a military vet, a Green Beret who hadn't played football -- not even pee wee -- until he walked on at the University of Texas.
Now it was training camp and Boyer was a Seattle Seahawk.
"Do I look small out there?" he asked, more than once.
But I noticed some other things, too. Boyer was rock-jawed. He had a steel will. He possessed constant, restless energy, a perfect fit for his constant, restless drive. He could be anxious and doubting, but he also could be confident and full of optimism.
Always and in all things, he tested himself. Always, he followed his dreams, no matter where they led.
At the same time, he ran from anything you or I would call a normal life: a comfortable home, a nice car, a loving family, a stable job.
That was the price he paid, and for a guy in his mid-30s, it was steep.
Fascinating guy, I thought.
What becomes of someone like that? Where does he end up? Between my other assignments and the commitments on his jammed schedule, we kept a conversation going for months, in person, by phone and on the internet. The passage of time served this story well.
Back in the 1990s, when I started out in journalism, I worked on a series of cinema verité documentaries for PBS, the kind of films that follow a subject closely and let the narrative play out on its own. It was a slow and painstaking enterprise that has influenced my reporting ever since. Whenever possible, I like to let time unfold and watch change happen. I did that with Nate Boyer.
When I went to see Boyer in April, I was surprised. I thought by then, months after he had been cut by the Seahawks, he would have turned away from his football dreams. Time to settle down. Maybe he'd have a good, solid job with the NFL, or in the movie industry in L.A., where he was gaining connections. Maybe he'd be down in Austin, working as a radio analyst for Texas football or even coaching a high school team.
That's what I expected, but this story shows where I found him instead. It was an unlikely place for someone who embodies two of the most potent American archetypes: the big-time football player and the soldier at war. It was that unexpectedness that made Boyer's story the kind I like to tell.