While the entire team of Pittsburgh Steelers stayed in the locker room as the national anthem played before their NFL game, one man appeared in front of everyone with his hand over his heart in honor of the flag. But it was his past that has been turning heads.
Alejandro Villanueva is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan. He abandoned his team as they hid in the locker room during the national anthem in protest.
— Banastre Tarleton (@Tarleton_exe) September 24, 2017
The Steelers remained inside, but LT and army vet Alejandro Villanueva stood alone outside of the tunnel. pic.twitter.com/vMyElAajCp
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) September 24, 2017
As you can tell, the Pittsburgh Steelers' sideline is empty since they are all in the locker room:
— ABC News (@ABC) September 24, 2017
But this isn't the first time the veteran has spoken out against the protests. During last year's season, Villanueva said in response to then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick protests:
“I agree that America is not perfect, I agree there are lot of issues with minorities in this country, I agree we should do something about it.
But I don’t know if the most effective way is to sit down when the national anthem of the country that is providing you freedom and providing you $60 million a year is the best way to do it when there are black minorities that are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan and protecting our freedom for less than $20,000 a year.
I just know I’m very thankful to be an American. I will stand very proudly and sing every single line of the national anthem every single time I hear it. I will stop whatever I’m doing because I recognize I have to be very thankful to be in this country.
I tell my teammates all the time, especially when they talk about contracts, I’m one of the cheapest left tackles in the NFL [but] just by being an American I’ve won three lotteries. And if you have a little money on top of me, that means I have 3½ lotteries.
I’ve been very fortunate to travel a lot and see what it’s like in different countries. I’ve experienced true racism that happens in Europe with a lot of minorities. It’s very difficult for me to be here in America, as grateful as I am, in the best country in the world, and have people not be pleased about it.
I think he's obviously upset and I think we all agree, the majority of America would agree, there's an issue with minorities in our country, the way some groups in our population are being treated.
I just think not standing up for America is a little bit unfair on his part because he's not taking into consideration the minorities that are fighting for the flag, like myself, the thousands of people who lay their lives so he can express himself.”
In an interview with ESPN, he also said:
“Whenever you include an entire country in one of those protests, I think you might mislead some people who truly wake up every single morning trying to give everything, including their lives, to protect this country. It's a little bit unfair to group everybody under that category.”
Villanueva made it very clear on Sunday that he didn't care what his team was doing in the locker room — he was going to go out and respect the flag he fought to protect.
Please note: This is a commentary piece. The views and opinions expressed within it are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of IJR.