Sunday was certainly a dramatic day on the ground around the NFL. We saw a game end on a 61-yard field goal. Another game, between the Detroit Lions and the Atlanta Falcons, ended in a questionable call.
But most of the drama around the league was reserved for what we saw (or did not see) on the sidelines during the national anthem.
After President Trump’s controversial and R-rated comments against national anthem protesters at a rally in Alabama on Friday, north of 200 NFL players knelt or locked hands with their teammates .
It was a sign of solidarity as much as the continuation of the Colin Kaepernick-led protests that we saw start last season.
But for one player, the anthem protest took on a whole different meaning. Pittsburgh Steelers starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva completed three periods of service in Afghanistan as a captain in the United States Army.
From a micro point of view, the experience of Villanueva is very different from that of the more than 200 players that we have seen taking part in the protests.
While the rest of his Steelers teammates completely avoided the anthem by staying in the locker room before their game against Chicago, Villanueva stepped onto the pitch from the tunnel and took part in the tradition of paying homage to the reds, whites and blues. . It was an emotional moment at Soldier Field.
Alejandro Villanueva’s tunnel appearance in Sunday’s anthem surprised many Steelers, a source told ESPN. https://t.co/RIDAha3XXO pic.twitter.com/hKIwDdzc90
– SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 25, 2017
As ESPN noted, many of their teammates were taken aback by the decision to make an appearance during the anthem. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin noted ahead of the game that the team decided to avoid the anthem because the players did not want to make a political statement.
Mike Tomlin Tells CBS Steelers Won’t Make National Anthem pic.twitter.com/5ybnRY2eSF
– Illustrated sports (@SInow) September 24, 2017
The right to take a stand against perceived injustice and inequality is enshrined in the laws of this land. The right to uphold the traditions of this nation is also enshrined in our laws and our core values. Villanueva felt obligated to pay tribute to him. And for that, this scribe congratulates him.
The move also apparently made Villanueva quite a popular figure. According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, the lineman owns the best-selling NFL jersey in the past 24 hours.
– Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) September 25, 2017
While some may wear Colin Kaepernick jerseys to show their support for what he does, surely others have the right to pay tribute to a man from Villanueva who returned from Afghanistan with a bronze star. That’s what makes this nation so great. The ability to be yourself. Take a stand for what you believe in.
With pretty much the entire NFL on Sunday, Villanueva did just that.