Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva became a figure of controversy when he broke from a team’s decision to remain off the field during the singing of the national anthem ahead of their game Sunday.
Villanueva, an Army veteran who served three tours in Afghanistan and earned two bronze stars, stood alone with his hand on his heart and sang along as “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played in Chicago.
The West Point graduate broke ranks with his fellow players, who remained out of sight in the tunnel or the locker room.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said the team had discussed what they might do on the field during the anthem, but didn’t come to a unanimous decision.
“Many of them felt like something needed to be done. I asked those guys to discuss it and whatever they discussed that we have 100 percent participation or we do nothing,” Tomlin told reporters at a post-game press conference. “They discussed it for an appropriate length of time and they couldn’t come to an understanding, so they chose to remove themselves from it.
“They were not going to be disrespectful in the anthem so they chose not to participate, but at the same time many of them were not going to accept the words of the president.”
But Villanueva went out anyway.
"Like I said, I was looking for 100 percent participation, we were gonna be respectful of our football team."
Though Tomlin appeared to not agree with Villanueva’s decision, he said the team “will not be divided by this.”
As a result of Villanueva's actions, his No. 78 was the top-selling jersey of any other player in the last 24 hours, ESPN reported Monday.
Their decision to remove themselves came in response to President Trump’s comments at a rally in Alabama Friday in which he said team owners should fire players who protested by kneeling during the “Star Spangled Banner.”
“Get that son of a b**** off the field,” he said of athletes who demonstrate in such a manner.