All but one of the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to protest by staying in their locker room, during the playing of the national anthem at this afternoon’s game in Chicago. The lone dissenter was former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva who bucked the team’s decision and took the field, anyway, hand over his heart and helmet under his arm.
On Sunday morning, reports emerged that the Steelers had decided to stay in their locker room despite league rules requiring the team to be on the sidelines during the playing of the national anthem.
By game time, the team did, indeed, fulfill their announced intentions. However, Villanueva defied his team and took the field:
The entire Pittsburgh Steelers team stayed in the locker room for national anthem except for Villanueva who served 3 tours in Afghanistan. pic.twitter.com/6kvGDls8wQ
— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) September 24, 2017
This isn’t the first time the Steelers’ offensive tackle has been at odds with fellow players over anthem protests.
Last year, Villanueva criticized Colin Kaepernick for his protests during the national anthem:
“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,” Villanueva said of the anthem protests.
The Mississippi native has a good reason for his position. He is himself a veteran with three tours of duty in Afghanistan.
Villanueva was a Captain in the U.S. Army during much of his service overseas and now stands at the rank of Major in the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. He was also the recipient of the Bronze Star with “V” device.
Even as he continued his Army career, Villanueva was given several workouts with teams such as the Cincinnati Bengals and the Philadelphia Eagles. He remained unsigned after the Eagles took him off the practice squad, though, until Steelers’ coach Mike Tomlin signed him in 2014.
Villanueva is now starting left tackle with a four-year, $24 million contract with the Steelers.