Yesterday, as the NFL began its Sunday games, several players and coaches protested President Trump’s disparaging remarks against Colin Kaepernick and the NFL by taking a knee or not showing up for the National Anthem altogether.
The controversy between Trump and the NFL first began on Sept. 22, when the president spoke about NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protests (without mentioning his name), saying that players that “disrespect our flag” should be fired by the team owners. He also added during his rant that if players take a knee during the “Star Spangled Banner,” coaches should “get that son of a bitch off the field.”
As football games began on Sunday, several teams came out to show solidarity towards Kaepernick and the right to protest. The Seattle Seahawks and the Tennessee Titans didn’t come out during the anthem in Nashville and opted to stay in their locker rooms during the anthem. During Sunday Night Football, the Oakland Raiders sat during the anthem, while their opponents, the Washington Redskins, chose to step out onto the field with locked arms.
Before their game with Chicago, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told CBS that his team was going to remain in the locker room during the anthem.
— #LaquanMcDonald (@ifuaskmee) September 25, 2017
Initially, news outlets believed that all Steelers players remained in the locker room. One player did come out and placed his hand over his heart.
— ABC News (@ABC) September 24, 2017
Alejandro Villanueva was the only player to stand during the “Star Spangled Banner.”
CREDIT: Credit: Joe Robbins / Getty
According to Penn Live, the players gathered in a secret meeting and discussed how they would respond to Trump’s comments. They all voted on three options: “They could stand along the sideline holding hands. They could stay off the field, which they did. Or they could take the sideline with some players kneeling, some standing and some of them standing putting their hands on the shoulders of the kneeling.”
All of the players voted to stay off the field with the exception of Villanueva, a military veteran.
“[Villanueva] was cool with it, with whatever we went through. He was on board. That’s Al, man,” Steelers Offensive tackle Christopher Hubbard said. “He’s a good guy.”
But because of time constraints, the players couldn’t stay in the locker room but had to stay in the tunnel, Cleveland.com reports. Villanueva didn’t want to be singled out but at the last minute, he stepped out of the tunnel and saluted the flag.
While Villanueva has yet to comment as to why he chose to stand alone, his career as a serviceman is an indication as to his support for the anthem. He also has spoken against Kaepernick’s decision to protest. Last year he told ESPN: “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.”
Although some attempted to use Villanueva as an example of a Latino athlete who was “standing up” to those protesting…
— Walking Deplorable (@ozzyboy11) September 24, 2017
Villanueva’s parents are from Spain, not Latin America.
Don't get it fucking twisted Alejandro Villanueva is Spanish. He's not LatinX. His parents are from Spain. His brother plays for Spain.
— Falcón (@JaimesonPaul) September 24, 2017
Before becoming an NFL player, Villanueva served three tours as a U.S. Army Ranger Afghanistan.
— Angie? (@af8869) September 24, 2017
Defensive end Cam Heyward commented on Villanueva’s actions on Sunday saying: “I don’t want to go into that, but we support our guy Al,” Heyward said, according to CBS Sport. “He feels he had to do it. This guy served our country, and we thank him for it.”
Another teammate, right guard David DeCastro, also said: “Al is a unique circumstance, what he’s been through, some of the things he’s talked about before. I’ve got a lot of respect for Al. I wish there was a different way to do this thing. We’ve got some people who look at the national anthem as patriotism, soldiers, all the stuff that it means, and obviously, people are upset, and I understand that. I just wish both sides understand that they want the right thing, but doing it through the national anthem, I wish there was a different way.”
While his teammates supported him, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wasn’t too pleased with Villanueva.
“Like I said, I was looking for a hundred percent participation,” Tomlin told reporters after the game. “We’re going to be respectful of our football team. Man, these are divisive times in the United States. And it’s a shame, but it is, but we’re not politicians. We’re coaches and professional athletes. If those of us are individuals choose to participate in politics in some way, I’m going to be supportive of that, but when we come out of locker rooms, we come out of locker rooms to play football games, and to be quite honest with you I didn’t appreciate our football team being drug into politics this weekend. And I’m sure that’s a global perspective.”
Less than 24 hours since Villanueva saluted the flag, his gear is now the top-selling NFL gear, beating out Tom Brady.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) September 25, 2017
A spokesman for Fanatics told ESPN Villanueva gear “jerseys and name and number T-shirts” has outsold all other items from various athletes.
UPDATE: In a press conference held earlier today, Villanueva said he was embarrassed for “butchering” the team’s plan to not come out for the anthem.
CREDIT: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette / Facebook
Villanueva later apologized for making his coach, teammates and team “look bad” in the process. “Every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself, I feel embarrassed,” said Villanueva.