OPINION: NFL Tackle, Army Vet Villanueva Stands Alone for his Country

| September 25, 2017

Chip Harp, Sports Feature Writer

The NFL, the golden goose of professional sports, is currently being wracked by protests that threaten to wreck its image and position as America’s pastime. It also threatens to disrupt the steady stream of cash that pours into the pockets of owners, broadcasters, advertisers, and players.

Do fans turn on the NFL to be fed a steady diet of political commentary and social upheaval? Is professional football attempting to split the very foundation of today’s society?

The protests, begun by former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, are reported to protest the social injustice suffered by minorities in the US, stemming directly from police shootings of black suspects during various incidents.

Though no one doubts any citizen’s right to protest in a peaceful and lawful way, many are questioning the decision to brand the country as a tainted, bigoted society, not worthy of respect. To demonstrate this, many professional football players have decided to dishonor the country’s anthem and flag by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem.

After comments against this form of protest by President Donald Trump over the weekend, the protests gathered more momentum when dozens of players chose to kneel rather than stand for the anthem on Sunday.  A glaring example was in London, where the Jacksonville Jaguars played the Baltimore Ravens.  All players stood for the playing of the UK anthem, God Save the Queen, but when the Star-Spangled Banner played, in the country which we defeated in the war the song memorializes, a large part of both teams chose to kneel.

This has sparked a large counter protest by fans outraged by the lack of respect shown the country, and especially those who have fought to protect it, and the rights of those who protest.

One player even had to stand alone for the anthem before a game.  Alejandro Villanueva is a U.S. Army veteran and Ranger who served in Afghanistan.  He also plays left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

As his team decided to hide in the locker room during the playing of the anthem out of protest, Villanueva chose to go on to the field, alone, and stand for the anthem.  This was not the first time he’s stood for his country.  In addition to his wartime service, Villanueva also spoke out against Kaepernick’s original protest, which has now grown into a wedge threatening to further split the country along racial lines.

“I agree that America is not perfect, I agree there are lot of issues with minorities in this country, I agree we should do something about it.

But I don’t know if the most effective way is to sit down when the national anthem of the country that is providing you freedom and providing you $60 million a year is the best way to do it when there are black minorities that are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan and protecting our freedom for less than $20,000 a year.

I just know I’m very thankful to be an American. I will stand very proudly and sing every single line of the national anthem every single time I hear it. I will stop whatever I’m doing because I recognize I have to be very thankful to be in this country.

I tell my teammates all the time, especially when they talk about contracts, I’m one of the cheapest left tackles in the NFL [but] just by being an American I’ve won three lotteries. And if you have a little money on top of me, that means I have 3½ lotteries.

I’ve been very fortunate to travel a lot and see what it’s like in different countries. I’ve experienced true racism that happens in Europe with a lot of minorities. It’s very difficult for me to be here in America, as grateful as I am, in the best country in the world, and have people not be pleased about it.

I think he’s obviously upset and I think we all agree, the majority of America would agree, there’s an issue with minorities in our country, the way some groups in our population are being treated.

I just think not standing up for America is a little bit unfair on his part because he’s not taking into consideration the minorities that are fighting for the flag, like myself, the thousands of people who lay their lives so he can express himself.”

In an interview with ESPN, he also said:

“Whenever you include an entire country in one of those protests, I think you might mislead some people who truly wake up every single morning trying to give everything, including their lives, to protect this country. It’s a little bit unfair to group everybody under that category.”

As the father of an Army Infantryman now serving, literally on the border between North and South Korea, so close he can hear the propaganda speakers blaring as he trains, I also take offense to this type of protest and applaud players, and Americans, like Villanueva.   Though we do all have the right to an opinion and to be able to express that opinion, it’s the country itself that allows that ability to protest.  So why are so many protesting the same nation that allows that opportunity in the first place?

I also appreciate Villanueva’s perspective.  It’s the same nation that allows these athletes to compete and earn a spot on these teams, in this league, and earn millions of dollars.  How can you claim that the country, as a whole, is not worthy of your respect?  Are these protesters not Americans, too?

In the same vein as these athletes have the right to protest, many fans and supporters of the league do as well.  As TV ratings dive and more and more sports compete for fans’ attention and dollars, the league, players, and owners would be wise to consider allowing their product to provide the escape and enjoyment it was designed to provide, instead of becoming a social platform for protests and complaints emanating from players and broadcasters alike.

However, at least it defers attention from the real threat to professional football today, concussions.

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