Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva was the only member of his team to be on the field for the National Anthem.
NFL players all over the country staged a mass protest in response to the remarks made by Donald Trump on Friday. The President of the United States used a rally in Alabama to call any NFL player who protests the national anthem a ‘son of a b—h’ who deserves to be fired. He later walked that threat back to players should merely be suspended, but the point was made.
And it was heard by NFL players everywhere.
Some players locked arms on the sidelines, other took a knee. One team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, simply stayed in the locker room since a protest couldn’t be agreed upon. Despite this, one player emerged from to stand for the anthem: offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva.
He’s going to be called many things, from a hero to someone who crossed the picket line. But before you judge him for what he did, you need to know who he is.
He is a decorated ex-Army Ranger
Villanueva is an ex-Army Ranger, having attended Army for college and beginning his service in 2010. He was deployed to Afghanistan three times in his military career and collected seven different decorations from the Army. The most profound of which is the Bronze Medal Star he earned during his first deployment.
Villanueva earned a medal for saving lives in Afghanistan
Villanueva was part of a team that helped rescue wounded soldiers, while under enemy fire. In addition to his decorations, Villanueva also has military badges from the Rangers, Combat Infantrymen, and the Parachutist division.
That’s no joke. Villanueva may protect a quarterback every Sunday in his post-Army life, but he’s saved actual lives and helped bring soldiers back home to their families.
He played college football at Army and wasn’t drafted
After leaving the Army, Villanueva tried his hand at a career in the NFL, using his background in the Army as a fallback plan if he didn’t make it. Because he decided to honor his commitment to military service, Villanueva was never drafted and walked on with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014. He later signed with the Steelers where he caught the eyes of coaches and muscled his way to a starting job through skill and talent. As we know now, he did make it and is now a starting lineman for a Steelers team that could very well play in the Super Bowl this year.
He’s also an example of why, in a heated political climate, we need to research before we react.