Two days after President Trump blasted NFL players who chose to disrespect the flag in September, hundreds of players knelt in protest during the national anthem or stayed in their team locker room. One team that remained in their locker room was the Pittsburgh Steelers. Head coach Mike Tomlin stated before the September 24 game that the team would stay in their locker room during the national anthem, but that is not what ended up happening.
When the national anthem began to play, one player was spotted outside the tunnel with his hand over his heart. That player was offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan.
The entire Pittsburgh Steelers team stayed in the locker room for national anthem except for Villanueva who served 3 tours in Afghanistan. pic.twitter.com/6kvGDls8wQ
— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) September 24, 2017
Now, Villanueva is planning something rather special for veterans across the country this Veterans Day weekend that will have red-blooded Americans cheering.
This weekend, many fans will be watching to see what NFL players will do in regards to their disrespectful national anthem protest. For months, the American people have witnessed NFL players kneeling during the national anthem essentially spitting the face of veterans across the country. It has not been confirmed if teams will kneel during the national anthem during today’s games, but we do know that Alejandro Villanueva has something else planned.
Alejandro Villanueva of the Pittsburgh Steelers is passing out Army decals to all his teammates to wear on their helmets in today’s game against the Indianapolis Colts which to many fans if a breath of fresh air.
Here is more from ESPN:
Villanueva, whose background as a former Army Ranger made him a prominent figure in the league’s controversy over the national anthem, told ESPN he is presenting each Steelers teammate with an Army decal to wear for Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts. A player will represent one Army division, as Villanueva has decals representing 13 different divisions that he will spread around the locker room.
“It’s just a small-unit patch that really doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but the history behind it means the whole world to a lot of veterans,” Villanueva said. “They died for that patch. When you watch the Steelers on Sunday and you see the flash of the 10th [Mountain] division and the 7th [Infantry] division … you’re calling out specific units.”
Villanueva was part of two divisions, 10th Mountain and 75th Ranger Regiment, and served in Afghanistan before becoming an NFL player.
He is pairing the decals with players whose personalities match the spirit of a specific division. Villanueva received the decals from the Army football team and said he has cleared their game-day usage through the Steelers.
As an example of his process, Villanueva will give right tackle Chris Hubbard the 101st Airborne “Screaming Eagles” Division decal because the player and division are known for reserved but efficient workmanship. Backup quarterback Landry Jones gets the 1st Armored Division in part because Jones knows Villanueva’s brother-in-law, who served with that division.
During protests in Week 3, Villanueva stood alone outside of the tunnel during the national anthem, which he and other players classified as a confusion in the Steelers’ attempt to respond to President Donald Trump’s explosive comments about NFL players days earlier.
Villanueva said Veterans Day was an ideal time to honor soldiers through the decals since the NFL allows it this week. He has notified coach Mike Tomlin of his plans.
But Villanueva knows that alone won’t bridge what he calls a growing divide between the NFL and parts of the military. He notices this when he visits veteran hospitals every Tuesday.
“There’s tension between the veteran community and the NFL. You go to VFW’s, and they won’t show NFL games,” Villanueva said. “[Veterans] don’t know if it’s, ‘Do we have to live in a utopian, perfect country for you to stand up for the national anthem?’ It’s a very tough concept for a lot of veterans to understand. I go back and forth because I’m in the middle of this whole thing. I’m a football player, but obviously, the flag is the most important thing to me while I’m in this country.
“At the end of the day, people love football. It’s a reality. We shouldn’t deprive ourselves of this great sport because of the unfortunate things that are surrounding things happening off the field.”
It is wonderful to witness a player honoring our veterans, but will it be enough to reverse the damage that has been done. For months, too many players have spit in the face of our nation’s heroes by kneeling during the national anthem that a simple decal on a helmet isn’t enough to erase that disrespect.
Now, of course, this is a kind gesture by Villanueva and a great start in repairing the damage done by these nasty protests, but it will take more than a decal to change everyone’s feelings.