Steelers Coach Rips Afghan War Vet Villanueva for Standing for the Anthem

AP Gene J Puskar
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

In what might just be the most 2017 NFL story ever, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin ripped one of his players, an Afghan war veteran, for coming out of the locker room for the national anthem.

On Sunday, the Steelers had decided as a team to remain in the locker room and not come to the sidelines for the playing of the national anthem, with one notable exception. The team understood that tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger and Afghan war veteran, would still come out to show respect for the flag. The exception was made for Villanueva due to the fact that he risked life and limb defending that flag and what it stands for, a factor obvious enough that really shouldn’t have to be explained.

Except for one factor: it’s the NFL in 2017.

The reasons why Villanueva should be exempted from his team’s disgusting display of disrespect were apparently lost on their head coach. When answering questions from reporters after the game, Tomlin seemed to rap Villanueva, repeating the claim that the team was looking for “100% participation,”

Tomlin said, “Like I said, I was looking for 100 percent participation, we were gonna be respectful of our football team.”

Apparently, in Tomlin’s world, respect for team is over and above respect for someone who risked his life to defend his country.

According to Fox, “Tomlin told the media that, prior to kickoff Sunday, the Steelers held a team meeting and decided, though not unanimously, to not come out of the locker room for the national anthem. Tomlin added the intent was to have his team focus on the game and not President Trump’s comments blasting players who chose to protest during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Tomlin said after the game:

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. 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.

Villanueva clearly had a different mentality about what the anthem meant for him.

Tomlin continued, “We’re not politicians. We’re coaches and professional athletes. If those of us or individuals choose to participate in politics in some way, I’m going to be supportive of that. But when we come out of locker rooms, we come out of locker rooms to play football games.”

Villanueva was critical of the Colin Kaepernick, the former 49er who launched the current NFL protest movement. In 2016, Villanueva 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.

“I will be the first one to hold hands with Colin Kaepernick and do something about the way minorities are being treated in the United States, the injustice that is happening with police brutality, the justice system, inequalities in pay. You can’t do it by looking away from the people that are trying to protect our freedom and our country.”


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