When the offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, Pittsburgh Steelers, stood with his hand over his heart near the tunnel to his locker room, when playing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ his former Army Ranger was the only team member to do so.
By the time, Soldier Field was playing the game against the Chicago Bears.
Villanueva, a Bronze Star recipient said that his decision was not a deliberate infringement of the order from coach Mike Tomlin to remain in the hall until the anthem was over. It was Villanueva’s insistence that the crew members change their original plan due to the messages that the disabled veterans had sent to ask him to stand up for the anthem.
Instead he stood at the front of the tunnel with star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and other captains of the squad. Chaos followed and Villanueva stood alone a few yards behind him with his teammates.
Several things happened in 24 hours: Tomlin sharply expressed his discomfort, Villanueva held a press conference that expressed his embarrassment that he had been the focus; his NFL gear shortly outsold that of all the players in the NFL; and he offered fans who were frustrated by national anthem demonstrations in the NFL the justification to continue watching.
Anthem demonstrations started in 2016, when Colin Kaepernick, then San Francisco 49, was sitting down and knelt later on during the anthem, accompanied by numerous other players in other teams. It was an important factor in the average 8 percent plunge of a league that was historically considered nationally a major unifier.
The plunge continued next year, the first year in office of President Donald Trump, when the protests grew. The plunge was 9.7 percent at the time.
Over the centuries, the NFL was the glue that gave a man in his playroom in East Palestine, Ohio, a deep bond with a man in a penthouse in Manhattan due to their team passion. Instead, the League became an association for social justice that no longer kept them together.
Last week Steelers played their first season game with a message on their helmets about social justice. Villanueva, who completed 3 tours in Afghanistan, wanted to remember a deceased soldier, Alwyn Cashe, who passed away in 2005 when Iraq was invaded by the United States.
On the back of the helmets the rest of the squad honoured Anson Rose Jr. A white police officer shot Rose, who was black, in June 2018. The former Pittsburgh police officer was found not guilty by a jury of three black jurors after deliberating for 3.5 hours.
Many news outlets reported reports according to: “The name of the survivor of helmet fire with the name of military veteran in St. Steelers’ Alejandro Villanueva.”
More introspective and meaningful is a version of “Steelers’ veteran Alejandro Villanueva, honours fellow soldiers who have fallen.”
Perhaps the titles were rampant, since too few people have a link with a military family member and don’t understand what it means for a soldier to lose someone in the region of war. Perhaps it’s because less than half of 1% of the public works in the military.
Villanueva didn’t decide not to respect Rose. Instead, he called attention to another black life lost. If you really think that every Black life matters, Cashe, a Black man who died in Iraq after trying to save soldiers from a burning vehicle, should be just as important and honoured.
In this country there are men and women who find a way to do the right thing, who do not comply, who do not live up to it if the view prevails. Rather, they become a forum for voiceless people.
When he was asked to focus on the antithem demonstrations by Kaepernick in 2016, his reaction crystallised what a lot of people believe: “I don’t know if the most productive way is to sit with a government that gives you independence during the national anthem, giving you $16 million annually … when black minorities are dying for less than $20,000 a year in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
One game of the Steelers’ week, one of two Monday Night Football matches, saw another giant NFL ratings. Compared to last year’s first football Monday night, spectators fell 17 percent. The League continues to experiment with social justice and apparently has wanted to gamble on its fan base for the next generation, but it has figured out that the age group does not have the baby boomer of allegiance or followers of Gen X football.
The young people in the League are more fictional. Older fans are tired of politics infecting everything they do: they support or don’t want to have a game without lectures.
What the NFL needs is many more people like Villanueva, not because of his patriotism, but because he is prepared to reach above what everybody else feels he should do.