More than 200 NFL players and team members decided to kneel during the national anthem Sunday following President Donald Trump‘s blunt criticism of the growing protest trend that a majority of Americans find quite disrespectful.
The Pittsburgh Steelers decided to forgo the anthem altogether, remaining in the locker room until it was over. However, one of their players, Army veteran and offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, emerged from the tunnel by himself and stood respectfully while “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played.
According to The Washington Times, Villanueva’s patriotic action was warmly accepted by the legion of fans displeased with the widespread protests, who in turn rewarded the player by making his replica jersey one of the hottest selling items across the entire league.
TheBlaze reported that the number 78 jersey of the former Army Ranger — who earned a Bronze Star for valoron one of his three tours of duty in Afghanistan — was the top selling jersey of the entire Pittsburgh team. It topped major offensive and defensive stars like wide receiver Antonio Brown, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and linebacker James Harrison.
In fact, Villanueva’s jersey even reached the top five top-selling jerseys among all players in the league overnight on NFL merchandiser Fanatics.com website.
The surge in sales came even as Villanueva’s own coach, Mike Tomlin, expressed his “disappointment” in Villanueva’s decision to not stay in the locker room with the rest of the team.
As for Villanueva himself, he made his position regarding the national anthem protests quite clear in 2016, according to ESPN, when he was asked about the trend that had been started by now-former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Noting he believed Kaepernick was right to try and bring attention to the perceived mistreatment of minorities in America, Villanueva stated, “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.”
Villanueva was worried that Kaepernick’s actions would grow — he was right — and “send the wrong message,” and urged him to be mindful of the “big picture” and “the impact he has on other people’s lives” via his “huge platform.”
“We have a lot of different ways of approaching things — through our government, through vote, through donations to platforms who are doing great things,” Villanueva explained. “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.”
This man is a hero, and even as he agrees that there are issues in this country that need to be addressed, he nevertheless is determined to remain respectful to the anthem and flag that represent the greatest nation on earth — one that has afforded him and his teammates the opportunity to succeed.
The fans took note of his respect, and have returned it to Villanueva in spades.
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