By now you’ve probably heard of Pittsburgh Steelers starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who found himself smack dab in the middle of America’s latest politically correct debacle. Last Sunday, he refused to stay in the locker room with the rest of his team during the national anthem and instead chose to honor the United States.
Villanueva became an overnight celebrity as masses of NFL fans are becoming increasingly disgusted with the prevalence of anthem-kneeling. Admiration for him grew as people learned of his incredible military career, having served three tours in Afghanistan, earning numerous commendations—including a Bronze Star and promotions up the ranks to company executive officer.
Villanueva’s accomplishments in his journey to the NFL are impressive as his service on the battlefield. Alejandro’s father, Ignacia, was a Spanish Navy officer working for NATO. Alejandro was born in Mississippi, but spent time in Rhode Island, Spain, and eventually went to SHAPE, a high school for American military children in Belgium. It was there that he played football for the first time.
His 6’9” stature helped him get noticed by college football recruiters. But it was actually one of Villanueva’s friends from his days at SHAPE who ended up telling Army Black Knights coaches of his giant friend. As word spread, Villanueva decided to enroll at West Point to play tight end for the Black Knights. In his sophomore year he was moved to defensive end and played mostly as a backup. Coaches again moved Alejandro during his junior year, this time to offensive tackle where he started all 12 games. The next season, coaches asked Villanueva to switch positions AGAIN—this time to wide receiver. He finished the season leading the team in catches, yards, and touchdowns.
In 2010 Alejandro earned a try-out for the Cincinnati Bengals, but was ultimately cut from the team. He responded by serving two tours in Afghanistan as a rifle platoon leader. In 2012 Villanueva was invited to try out for the Chicago Bears, but again he was cut. And again he went to Afghanistan to serve another tour.
In March 2014, Villanueva attended a series of NFL combines and once again signed an offer to try out for the Philadelphia Eagles as a defensive end. Although Alejandro was ultimately cut by the Eagles, he was noticed by Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin during a preseason game and shortly thereafter he was signed to the Pittsburgh practice squad.
Ironically, Tomlin first noticed Villanueva as he was honoring the US national anthem: “I looked across the field during the anthem and there’s a guy standing over there about a head taller than everybody else and saluting during the anthem. It kind of got my attention. I wanted to know about this enormous human being over there saluting.”
Not long after Villanueva signed with the Steelers, the decision was made to convert him back to tackle. Although Alejandro played some tackle in college, playing offensive line in the pros is a whole different world. And the left tackle position is usually filled by the biggest and best offensive linemen.
Alejandro spent the year developing his blocking skills and gaining weight, which allowed him to move up the depth charts to second team. On October 18, 2015, Steelers starting left tackle Kelvin Beachum blew out his ACL and was subsequently done for the year. Villanueva replaced Beachum and retained the job for the last 12 games of the season, but was rated fairly low overall among NFL tackles.
In 2016, Kelvin Beachum left the Steelers in free agency and Villanueva beat out 10-year veteran Ryan Harris for the starting left tackle position. Alejandro started the season with some struggles but by the end of the season was rated very highly among his peers in the league. Despite starting most of 2015 and all of 2016, Villanueva’s salary for those years was the league minimum. In 2017 Alejandro signed a four-year $24 million-dollar extension to his contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The rest is history. Despite anthem protesting, Trump tweets, and the overwhelmingly leftist sports media, Alejandro Villanueva is just a guy trying to live out his dream as a football player. Villanueva has obviously given more to his country than any of his fellow NFL brethren. But because of the chaotic and divisive times that we live in, Alejandro was forced to apologize for doing what he thought was right. I can’t blame him. This man has climbed to the top of the NFL mountain and has had to overcome every possible obstacle in his way.
Now that he has finally made it, his success has been jeopardized by the absurd circumstances of today’s America. Though, one thing is for sure: In a time when the NFL has brought Americans so much shame, Alejandro Villanueva is proud as hell. And for that, we award him Proud Boy of the Week.
For more sports talk follow Darrel on Twitter @DarrelArnold