Steeler, former Ranger stands for anthem alone

Alejandro Villanueva, who served three tours in Afghanistan, stood and honored the flag on a day of protests in the NFL

By Military1 Staff

Across the NFL this past Sunday, dozens of athletes, coaches and even some owners linked arms in support of players’ right to protest during the national anthem, a controversy that was highlighted by the president's tweets last week. 

The majority of the Pittsburgh Steelers team stayed in the locker room during the national anthem, to avoid the spectacle, and in a press conference, Coach Mike Tomlin explained his team’s decision.

“They discussed it for an appropriate length of time and they couldn’t come to an understanding, so they chose to remove themselves from it,” he said. “They were not going to be disrespectful in the anthem so they chose not to participate, but at the same time many of them were not going to accept the words of the president.”

Only one player chose to ignore the team’s decision to abstain from the anthem: offensive tackle Allejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who previously served three tours in Afghanistan. Villanueva stood at the entrance to the tunnel that leads from under the arena to stand for the anthem and place his hand over his heart.

The veteran’s decision to break from the team’s decision was met surprise, but understanding from many of his teammates. Defensive Cam Heyward said he wasn’t surprised by his choice and didn’t want to speculate on his thought process.

“I don't want to go into that, but we support our guy Al. He feels he had to do it. This guy served our country, and we thank him for it,” Heyward said.

Steeler’s guard David DeCastro agreed that Villanueva had a different perspective.

"Al is a unique circumstance, what he's been through, some of the things he's talked about before,” he said.

Tomlinson expressed dismay at the public display by Villanueva, not for his stance, but at the lack of unity among teammates.

“I was looking for 100 percent participation, we were gonna be respectful of our football team,” Tomlin said during a post-game press conference.