This Ex-Army Ranger Defied His NFL Teammates, Left Lockerroom to Stand for Anthem

Posted: Sep 24, 2017 2:40 PM

Matt told you earlier about the Pittsburgh Steelers' team decision to remain in the lockerroom during today's performance of the Star Spangled Banner in Chicago.  They followed through on their collective gesture, which their head coach insists was designed to avoid a political spectacle. "We're not participating in the anthem today - not to be disrespectful to the anthem, but to remove ourselves from the circumstance," Mike Tomlin explained.  But many fans evidently viewed the snub differently, heavily booing the Steelers when they emerged onto the field, post-anthem: 

Meanwhile, fans booed players who knelt in Detroit, where the national anthem singer himself also took a knee:

But it must be noted that one Steeler was not cloistered in private with the rest of his teammates as the song was performed this afternoon.  Former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva, who earned a Bronze Star in the Afghanistan War, was on the field, standing with his hand over his heart.  God bless him, and the country he valiantly served:

My overall reaction to the anthem controversy, kicked into hyper-drive by President Trump's remarks in Alabama Friday night, has been frustrated and mixed.  I'm deeply turned off by players who disrespect the flag and the anthem by refusing to stand.  I also recognize that the men and women who've died defending that flag did so to protect the fundamental rights of American citizens, including free speech and expression.  Athletes have a right to make their own choices regarding the anthem, but that doesn't make their decisions right.  Locking arms in solidarity strikes me as an appropriate display, but conspicuously not standing while the anthem is played looks divisive and disrespectful -- and even unpatriotic in the eyes of most Americans.  I posted a few of my takes on Twitter as this saddening spectacle has played out:

That latter point is an attempt at consistency.  The worst aspect of this controversy, in my view, is the endless political polarization that is creeping into every corner of American life.  Sports should be unifying and largely apolitical.  We're losing that, as hyper-politicized signaling and tribalism run roughshod over our culture.  Like it or not, this is true:

The NFL is actively alienating millions of fans.  I'll leave you with this CBS News profile of Villanueva a few years ago: