Now, Villanueva has one more bit of fame: He was the only member of the Steelers to walk out of the tunnel before Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears and hold his hand over his heart while the national anthem played. His teammates remained several feet behind him, just inside the tunnel — notably not on the field, in protest of President Donald J. Trump and his comments about the N.F.L.
Villanueva, a 6-foot-8, 320-pound lineman who was born in Mississippi but is the son of a Spanish naval officer, did not speak with the news media after Sunday’s game.
But in past interviews he has expressed solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, whose protests last season about the way African-Americans are treated — first by sitting, and later by kneeling, during the national anthem — have spread to other teams, drawing the ire of President Trump over the weekend.
“I will be the first one to hold hands with Colin Kaepernick and do something about the way minorities are being treated in the United States, the injustice that is happening with police brutality, the justice system, inequalities in pay,” Villanueva said, according to ESPN.
Rather, he has questioned whether Kaepernick’s approach has inadvertently suggested a lack of appreciation for service members whose sacrifices have made such protests possible.
“You can’t do it by looking away from the people that are trying to protect our freedom and our country,” he said.
He added: “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.”
After the Steelers’ loss on Sunday, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said the team had agreed at a players-only meeting on Saturday night to remain in the locker room or tunnel during the anthem. His teammates might not have been aware that Villanueva would step out of the tunnel into a more visible position near the field.
“We thought we were all in attention with the same agreement, obviously, “ the Steelers’ James Harrison said, according to PennLive. “But, I guess we weren’t.”
Asked whether it was a problem that Villanueva appeared for the anthem when the rest of the team did not, Roethlisberger said only, “No.”
And he emphasized that the team’s decision was in “no way, shape or form”…