VB The Wise: The Sunday NFL Star

And his anti-NFL decision that led to stardom

Doug 'VB' Goudie
September 26, 2017 - 5:46 am

Amidst all the chaos and confusion that came out of the NFL this weekend, a star was born, and his name is Alejandro Villanueva.  He is the offensive lineman who stood outside the team's tunnel with his hand over his heart during the National Anthem, all while the rest of his team stayed inside the tunnel.  24 hours after he did so, his NFL jersey was knocking on the Top 5 for jersey sales in the entire league.   And why not, after all, Villanueva is an Army veteran (a Ranger actually) who has served multiple tours in Iraq and has been awarded a bronze star.  The NFL longs for guys like him, and they love for images like the one of him with his hand over his heart.

   What makes him such an interesting case, however, is that what he did runs completely counter to everything everyone in the NFL believes in almost every other situation.  What happened in the Steelers case was that the team held a meeting, and they decided that whatever they were going to do during the anthem they would do it 100% as a team.  Because some players wanted to kneel, others wanted to sit, and still others wanted to stand, it was decided that the team as a whole would just stay in the tunnel, out of sight of everybody.  In other words, he went rogue.  As QB Ben Roethlisberger said after the game, "We said whatever we do, we need to stay unified as group, because that's what we're about."  But there was Villanueva, standing alone OUTSIDE the tunnel, while the rest of the team was 20 feet back INSIDE the tunnel.  As Head Coach Mike Tomlin said later, "I was looking for 100% participation, we didn't get 100% participation."

   Remember now, Villanueva is a combat veteran, and the flag certainly means more to him than most. And the image of him standing alone saluting is as iconic an image as any in the NFL this year.  But the team decided, as a whole, to put aside individual statements for the collective good, and yet, did Villanueva not make an individual statement?  Had he spoken up during the team meeting and said that "come hell or high water, I'll be out there and no one is going to stop me", then absolutely.  But it appears he did not do that, as the head coach was as surprised as anyone that Villanueva did what he did on Sunday.  Think about it this way, what if the Patriots held a team meeting, decided on a unified 100% decision to not participate in the anthem at all, and then at the last second Devin McCourty went out alone, in full uniform, and knelt just outside the tunnel.  How do we think that would have gone over with Coach Belichick?  After all, it wasn't that long ago when Wes Welker missed a quarter of a playoff game for making "feet" jokes about Rex Ryan.  (The same Rex Ryan who was trying way too hard to impress his new ESPN bosses with how "mad" he was at Trump this weekend.)  What makes Villanueva's case so fascinating is that he did something that he normally would get lambasted for, not only in the NFL but also in the military - you agree to have your team's back and then don't - no, no.  But these are strange times, and my guess is that while Steph Curry is no longer invited to the White House, Alejandro Villanueva would be welcomed anytime.  

   More wisdom next week.

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