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.


As you can tell, the Pittsburgh Steelers' sideline is empty since they are all in the locker room:

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.

View Comments(94 comments)
Melissa LaRoche(24 likes)Thank you to this man for his service, for his pride, and for his family!  Without men like you we would not be able to sit and watch football,  baseball, soccer, basketball, hockey, track, etc.  We are all grateful to you for what you and your family sacrificed for us spoiled Americans - I am so sorry that people who are paid to entertain us are being so disrespectful.  I believe you are now doing your job, your career, and part of that job description is to pay respect to those who have fought, and those that continue to fight for us - so that we can wake up to are coffees, and iTunes, and drive our fancy cars and live in our special houses, to buy whatever we want, etc. and these spoiled brats are being so disrespectful - again i am so sorry.  For those of us in my house, thank you for all you did and thank you to all those that continue to fight for this ungrateful nation!
MIG (22 likes) Has the whole world lost it's moral compass!!! To the players and the NFL League...have you no SHAME! Enough with the political correctness!!! This issue is not about inequality or white supremacy! Mr. Trump, voices many of our opinions who have been intimated to speak. That's what we love about him. I am a Christian and I'm done with others looking for an excuse to discriminate against me!!!  Enough is enough. We are kind, loving Americans but we are tired of being beaten down because we have worked hard and made something with our selves. Opportunities are available to all. Choose the right path and be somebody in life or not.  The choice is yours. However, the penalties are also ALL yours and no one should say sorry for your poor decisions in life. Mr. Kaepernick, get with the program and realize who are the people financially supporting this country! It is about disrespecting the flag and your country!!!! A league made up of minorities and crying inequality!!!I applaud this Serviceman... Mr. Villanueva!!!! I thank you not only for your service to our country but for respecting your country. Mr. Kaepernick created and brought a political issue to the field and since he did he must understand a response will follow from many. Maybe if he had to wear a uniform, serve his country and was unable to earn millions playing football, his attitude and respect to our flag would be much different.Mr. Kaepernick, your actions are discriminatory to so many!!! You should not be allowed to play again without a penalty. Go to another country and see if they will allow such disrespect or pay you millions to play football or kneel. The flag which you choose to disrespect not only represents this beautiful country, which has provided many freedoms including your freedom to earn millions of dollars just to play football but also the home of the brave. The football field is NOT the arena to discuss political issues. Remember, 80% of the league are minorities. There are many inequalities. I can name many who have not been treated fairly and to this day have not received restitution or made whole like others. The NFL and their players have an opportunity and a responsibility to help the community and lead by examples. Instead, Mr. Kaepernick, you do so in an appropriate manor.   As it is said, "There is a time and place for everything and timing is everything!" Mr. Kaepernick your timing and place is offensive and in despicable taste.Mr. Kaepernick, put on a uniform and then lets talk!!!#Boycott Kaepernick!!!  #Boycott_NFL!!!!!
Linda Merkel Hahn(22 likes)Alejandro Villenueva, YOU are a true example of a real American hero.  Thank you for your service, your loyalty for your country and your courage.  YOU are a true role model for all Americans!