Of the wide variety of protests held by NFL teams and individual players throughout the league on Sunday, perhaps the most striking came from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While the rest of the Steelers sat in the locker room or waited inside the tunnel until the anthem ended, one player stood on the edge of the field with his hand on his heart while the anthem played.
Offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva stood alone, surrounded by cameras, while the anthem played. The former Amy Ranger was the only Steelers player who left the locker room for the anthem on Sunday.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin spoke to CBS before the game on Sunday and said his team wanted to remove itself from a political situation.
“We’re not going to play politics. We’re football players, we’re football coaches. We’re not participating in the anthem today – not to be disrespectful to the anthem, but to remove ourselves from the circumstance.
“People shouldn’t have to choose. If a guy wants to go about his normal business and participate in the anthem, he shouldn’t be forced to choose sides. If a guy feels the need to do something, he shouldn’t be separated from his teammate who chooses not to.”
Tomlin didn’t want his team to be used as a political tool, but it certainly will be. Both the players who did not come out for the anthem and Villanueva will be derided or praised by people on all sides of this debate.
Hero worship is always dangerous in this modern world, but on Sunday the NFL showed its players have a social awareness and complexity we often forget about when everyone is wearing the same set of colors.