Prior to a matchup with the Chicago Bears, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced that the Pittsburgh players would leave the field for the locker room during the National Anthem.
Tomlin claimed the decision was meant to avoid the controversy of a trend for NFL players to sit or kneel in protest of the National Anthem.
Villanueva, however, choose to ignore the coach’s decision. He emerged from the team’s tunnel to stand with a hand over his heart while the anthem played.
Alejandro Villanueva was the lone Steelers player to come out during the national anthem pic.twitter.com/Jl7id3EGnk
— SB Nation (@SBNation) September 24, 2017
Villanueva, an Army Ranger veteran who served in Afghanistan, became a celebrated icon when his story went viral online, with fans across the country buying up Vilanueva jerseys in support.
The Blaze reports:
As of Monday morning, Villanueva’s jersey remains the best-selling Steeler jersey while the jerseys of famed wide-receiver Antonio Brown and famed-quarterback Ben Roethlisberger fall behind his.
Overall, only Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, Raiders quarterback Derrick Carr, and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott have higher selling jerseys than Villanueva, according to 247sports.com.
After the game, a disappointed Tomlin said in a press conference that he had been “looking for 100 percent participation” in his call for the team to hide in the locker room while the Star Spangled Banner played.
If only Tomlin would listen to reason and see that Vilanueva’s massive increase in jersey sales indicates that a player’s professionalism and patriotism help the NFL more than a coach’s cowardice.
A spokesman for Fanatics, which runs the NFL’s online store, confirmed to ESPN that, over the past 24 hours, more Villanueva gear, including jerseys and name and number T-shirts, has been ordered than that of any other NFL player.
Both the NFL Shop and Fanatics websites had Villanueva jerseys and T-shirts in men’s and women’s sizes.
For one day, Villanueva merchandise outpaced that of every other NFL player. Yet the NFL still doesn’t understand that American’s don’t appreciate players being allowed personal time for disrespectful protests by players on the field.
Hopefully head coach Tomlin will see the overwhelming support Villanueva has received, and see the light.
As a Bonze Star recipient and Afghanistan veteran, Villanueva’s patriotism on the field shows that he isn’t going to let a few protesters tell him he can’t support his country.
A former Army Ranger who earned a Bronze Star and served three tours in Afghanistan, Villanueva was the only Steelers player who came outside the tunnel during Sunday’s national anthem, after the team collectively decided not to be on the sideline during the song. Pictures and video of Villanueva standing, with his hand on his heart, filled social media networks.
The NFL can defend their inaction over player protests all they want, but Villanueva’s sales prove that the American people don’t agree with coaches like Tomlin in thinking our National Anthem is just too divisive to stand for.