On Sunday, most of the NFL players in the news were those who decided to take a knee during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice in America. Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva is one of the few NFL players who made news by not kneeling.
While many NFL teams took the field during the playing of the anthem and then allowed those who wanted to kneel do so, the Steelers were among a handful of teams who stayed in the locker room during the song. Head coach Mike Tomlin said before the game that all of the players would do so, but Villanueva appeared in the tunnel by himself during the anthem and stood with his hand on his heart.
Alejandro Villanueva served 3 tours of duty in Afghanistan as a Captain in the army. Only Steeler on the field during national anthem. pic.twitter.com/G7Dt33tki1
— Nick Short ?? (@PoliticalShort) September 24, 2017
Villanueva, who played college football for Army, is a former Army Ranger who earned a Bronze Star and served three tours in Afghanistan.
While the argument over the protests is heated and only got louder on Sunday, those in support of standing during the anthem seem to have rallied around Villanueva in the form of buying his jersey. So much so, his No. 78 Steelers jersey became the No. 1-selling item on the NFL Store by midday Monday.
A spokesman for Fanatics, which runs the store, told ESPN that more Villanueva gear, which includes jerseys and t-shirts, has been ordered than of other NFL player. That pushed Tom Brady down to the No. 2 spot and given Brady’s recent comments disagreeing with Donald Trump, that might push the Patriots QB down a little bit more for a while.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) September 25, 2017
Villanueva’s feelings about the protests and anthem are well-known. Last year when Colin Kaepernick started kneeling, the lineman said, “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.”
No word yet on how things might play out between Villanueva and his teammates and coaches, but it’s clear that he’s got a lot of new fans out there supporting him. Expect to see a few more No. 78s in the crowd next time the Steelers take the field.