The whole world took notice on Sunday afternoon when, as his teammates sat out the national anthem, offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva stood alone at the entrance to the tunnel, hand over his heart.
The veteran Army Ranger, West Point graduate, and Bronze Star recipient had explained last season why he just didn’t have it in him to sit out the anthem:
“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.”
But just one day after Villanueva stood alone, appropriately, at Soldier Field in Chicago, he issued an apology, saying he felt that he had — unintentionally, of course — thrown his teammates under the bus:
“I made Coach Tomlin look bad, and that is my fault and my fault only. I made my teammates look bad, and that is my fault.”
As a 10-year — and third-generation — Army veteran myself, I absolutely understand where Villanueva is coming from: you learn in your first days of Basic Training that doing your own thing can get you or your buddies killed in a hurry.
But I also respectfully (because come on, he outranks me and he’s huge) disagree with his assessment of the situation. Alejandro Villanueva did not make his teammates look bad. They made him look bad.
Another thing we drilled during those first grueling days of training: LDRSHIP (yes, I know I spelled that wrong). The Army Values are as follows:
- Selfless Service
- Personal Courage
Villanueva, in standing up for what he believed was right, exemplified every one of those values at Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon.
He displayed loyalty, duty, and respect — to his country, to the men and women with whom he served, and to flag that stands for everything he signed up to fight for.
Selfless service — by standing when he knew that the popular thing, the thing that would likely earn him praise from the rest of his team, was to sit it out.
Honor, integrity, and personal courage — in doing what his heart told him was right even if no one else was willing to stand with him.
Villanueva has been playing football in Pittsburgh since 2015. His teammates know him. There is little doubt in my mind that at least a few of them knew of the statement he made last season regarding the anthem protests and that he would have a difficult time sitting it out.
They knew that he would be compelled to stand, and they let him step out of that tunnel alone. They did the very thing that Villanueva, as a Ranger, was trained not to: they left a man behind.