- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2017

NFL fans are rewarding Pittsburgh Steelers’ Alejandro Villanueva in droves for his decision to reject a national anthem protest by his teammates.

Outrage at President Trump’s recent comments about professional football players who sit for the national anthem sparked a slew of protests across the league on Sunday, but Mr. Villanueva — a former Army Ranger and bronze star recipient — refused to take part. Fans rewarded the player by making his jersey the top seller on Fanatics.com.

The offensive tackle’s actions garnered a veiled shot from coach Mike Tomlin and respect from defensive end Cameron Heyward.

“I was looking for 100 percent participation. We were gonna be respectful of our football team,” Tomlin told reporters after the Steelers lost 23-17 to the Chicago Bears.

“Al’s a hell of a man,” said Heyward, a local CBS affiliate reported Monday. “I appreciate everything he does. Just thinking about, you know, we have multiple people that have family members that serve our country, and we never want to take anything away from them. We never want to turn our back on our military. But there was a stand made by multiple people, multiple teams, and you know, we all want to stick together through this.”

Villanueva told ESPN in 2016 that protesting the flag, which started with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, sends “the wrong message.”

“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.”

Sunday’s protests came two days after Mr. Trump told a Huntsville, Alabama, crowd that professional players that sit for the national anthem should be fired.

“We’re proud of our country. We respect our flag,” Mr. Trump said. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now! Out. He’s fired! He’s fired!’ “

• Douglas Ernst can be reached at dernst@washingtontimes.com.

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