When Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva was an Army Ranger, he was expected to follow orders.
The fact that he didn’t on Sunday came as a surprise to at least one teammate.
Villanueva was the only Steeler to be seen during the national anthem yesterday, standing with his right hand over his heart while the rest of the team stayed in the locker room, in what coach Mike Tomlin described as a way to avoid being dragged into a political fight.
In a look at the team’s decision-making process by Jacob Klinger of PennLive.com, there was a sense that the Steelers were unified on their decision to stay out of it after a team meeting. They considered three options, including standing on the sideline holding hands, staying off the field, or a mixed response of some kneeling, some standing and some with hands on the shoulders of those. The third option was discarded quickly, and apparently the decision to stay in was approved by a narrow majority.
And while some players thought Villanueva was exempt because of his military service, veteran linebacker James Harrison was confused.
“We thought we were all in attention with the same agreement, obviously, ” Harrison said. “But, I guess we weren’t.”
Veteran guard Ramon Foster said the team supported Villanueva standing just off the field, while offensive lineman Chris Hubbard said most players assumed Villanueva was an exception to the solidarity.
“Al was cool with it, with whatever we went through. He was on board. That’s Al, man,” Hubbard said. “He’s a good guy.”
Villanueva did not talk to reporters after the game. He said previously he supported Colin Kaepernick‘s stance on racial inequality, but not his method of delivering the protest.
Tomlin said he thought the team was in agreement on how to handle it, and that they were going to handle it together.
“We will not be divided on this,” Tomlin said. We got a group of men in there that come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, creed, ethnicities and religions, and so forth. That’s football. That’s a lot of team sports, but because of our position, we get drug into bulls—, to be quite honest with you.
“Some have opinions. Some don’t. We wanted to protect those that don’t. We wanted to protect those that do.”
But as he did in Afghanistan, Villanueva put himself in the line of fire. Which is his right as much as any player has to protest otherwise. Whether his bosses are fine with his insubordination remains to be seen.