It is hard to miss Alejandro Villanueva, on or off the football field. The Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman stands 6’9, 320-pounds and is one of the biggest men in a sport populated with large human beings. But on Sunday, he was conspicuous for another reason. He was the only member of the Pittsburgh Steelers to leave the locker room and stand for the playing of the national anthem.
Villanueva is a former Army Ranger and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and stood alone with his hand over his heart for The Star-Spangled Banner before the Steelers’ game against the Chicago Bears.
The gesture came after President Donald Trump spoke Friday about NFL players who kneel during the national anthem.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,’” Trump said at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama.
NFL teams, players, and coaches have spoken about his comments. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had told CBS Sports the team wouldn’t take part in the national anthem “to remove ourselves from the circumstance.”
Villanueva served three tours in Afghanistan and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for valor. The entire kneeling for the national anthem scenario arose with Colin Kaepernick in 2016 and Villanueva, in an interview with ESPN made his feelings known.
“I don’t know if the most effective way is to sit down during the national anthem with a country that’s providing you freedom, providing you $16 million a year … when there are black minorities that are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan for less than $20,000 a year,” he said.
“I will be the first one to hold hands with Colin Kaepernick and do something about the way minorities are being treated in the United States, the injustice that is happening with police brutality, the justice system, inequalities in pay,” he added. “You can’t-do it by looking away from the people that are trying to protect our freedom and our country.”
While most of the Steelers players were understanding of Villanueva’s stance on the matter a few others, notably James Harrison and Coach Mike Tomlin made comments against his appearance. Tomlin in his post-game press conference stated that “I wanted 100 percent participation.”
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Photo courtesy NFL.com