Alejandro Villanueva's courageous – and lonely – stand for the flag

What a sorry state of affairs it is that standing up for the American flag, rather than taking a knee, is now what's unusual and newsworthy.

That's where we're at now, with Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva making headlines for courageously standing up for the flag during the playing of the National Anthem while the rest of his teammates huddled back in the locker room.

Villanueva, recall, is a West Point-educated Army Ranger and an Afghanistan war veteran.  He served three tours of duty and was awarded the Bronze Star for valor.  He was known, even before this event, as the best military veteran in the NFL.  But more to the point, he knew troops who died for that flag.  He had made patriotic statements well before the current imbroglio.  He wasn't going to disrespect the flag and the National Anthem by staying in the locker room.

And it's worth noting that he was pressured into doing just that.  The Pittsburgh Steelers' head coach, Mike Tomlin, said he was looking for "100% participation" in that locker room, and he was specifically asked about Villanueva. It suggests that internal peer pressure is a significant part of all the kneeling and locker room hiding that's been driving audiences away from the NFL – a great unreported story.

How Tomlin thought he could pressure a man with Villanueva's record and background into falling into that line is beyond common sense.  What Villanueva did was normal behavior for a patriotic veteran, not something that should be looked on as unusual.  But in a degraded culture, standing for the flag is now to be an outlier, someone who isn't fitting in with the team.  To the rest of us, it's an act of courage.  ESPN reports that the players stayed in the locker room out of respect for Villanueva, given that the rest wanted to come out and take a knee.  But Villanueva just couldn't compromise.  U.S. troops in Afghanistan were closely watching – and it's possible Villanueva knew this:

This--> from a soldier in Afghanistan watching the game regarding #VillaNueva https://t.co/hWUY1Y5ooA

— SalenaZito (@SalenaZito) September 24, 2017

Watching football right now in Afghanistan shaking my damn head at America. Thanks to CPT V. He gets it.

— Be Fick (@BeTheFick) September 24, 2017

Now Villanueva is a hero to NFL fans, a standout, a man of courage, and the reason fans like to watch football and cheer it on.

No @Steelers had wherewithal to join Villanueva-teammate who served 3 tours in Afghanistan-for the national anthem
His jersey may sell out pic.twitter.com/uPJDW1owEi

— SalenaZito (@SalenaZito) September 24, 2017

They're going hog-wild buying his jersey.

If this doesn't send a message to the NFL about where its future lies, nothing will.

What a sorry state of affairs it is that standing up for the American flag, rather than taking a knee, is now what's unusual and newsworthy.

That's where we're at now, with Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva making headlines for courageously standing up for the flag during the playing of the National Anthem while the rest of his teammates huddled back in the locker room.

Villanueva, recall, is a West Point-educated Army Ranger and an Afghanistan war veteran.  He served three tours of duty and was awarded the Bronze Star for valor.  He was known, even before this event, as the best military veteran in the NFL.  But more to the point, he knew troops who died for that flag.  He had made patriotic statements well before the current imbroglio.  He wasn't going to disrespect the flag and the National Anthem by staying in the locker room.

And it's worth noting that he was pressured into doing just that.  The Pittsburgh Steelers' head coach, Mike Tomlin, said he was looking for "100% participation" in that locker room, and he was specifically asked about Villanueva. It suggests that internal peer pressure is a significant part of all the kneeling and locker room hiding that's been driving audiences away from the NFL – a great unreported story.

How Tomlin thought he could pressure a man with Villanueva's record and background into falling into that line is beyond common sense.  What Villanueva did was normal behavior for a patriotic veteran, not something that should be looked on as unusual.  But in a degraded culture, standing for the flag is now to be an outlier, someone who isn't fitting in with the team.  To the rest of us, it's an act of courage.  ESPN reports that the players stayed in the locker room out of respect for Villanueva, given that the rest wanted to come out and take a knee.  But Villanueva just couldn't compromise.  U.S. troops in Afghanistan were closely watching – and it's possible Villanueva knew this:

This--> from a soldier in Afghanistan watching the game regarding #VillaNueva https://t.co/hWUY1Y5ooA

— SalenaZito (@SalenaZito) September 24, 2017

Watching football right now in Afghanistan shaking my damn head at America. Thanks to CPT V. He gets it.

— Be Fick (@BeTheFick) September 24, 2017

Now Villanueva is a hero to NFL fans, a standout, a man of courage, and the reason fans like to watch football and cheer it on.

No @Steelers had wherewithal to join Villanueva-teammate who served 3 tours in Afghanistan-for the national anthem
His jersey may sell out pic.twitter.com/uPJDW1owEi

— SalenaZito (@SalenaZito) September 24, 2017

They're going hog-wild buying his jersey.

If this doesn't send a message to the NFL about where its future lies, nothing will.

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