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Douglas Andrews / Sep. 17, 2020

Alejandro Villanueva Stands Tall

This patriotic NFLer has far more worthy people to honor than deceased street thugs.

Alejandro Villanueva isn’t your typical NFL lineman. Nor is he your typical Army Ranger and Afghanistan combat veteran. The son of a Spanish naval officer assigned to NATO, he was born in Mississippi but grew up playing rugby at an American high school in that football hotbed of Casteau, Belgium.

A childhood friend of his who went on to play college football at Army told his coaches about Villanueva, whose size (he’s 6’ 9"), strength, and academic prowess no doubt caught their attention. Ultimately, he too chose to attend West Point, where he played football for the Black Knights and was voted a team captain in his senior year.

Normally, that would have been the end of it. Football players from the service academies aren’t typically good enough to play on Sundays, and they instead go on to successful military and civilian careers. But Villanueva had a thirst to play in the NFL, and after a couple of failed tryouts, a tour of duty as perhaps the biggest Army Ranger ever, a workout detour through tiny Savannah State College, and a cup of coffee with the Philadelphia Eagles, he ultimately signed a contract in 2014 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

He’s been there ever since.

Villanueva first made waves in 2017, when, at the start of the NFL’s inaugural “woke” season, he alone left the Steelers’ locker room to take the field and stand for the national anthem. He ultimately apologized for his decision to stand alone, saying he felt “embarrassed” because it made “the organization look bad, my coach look bad, and my teammates look bad.”

While we might wish Villanueva hadn’t apologized, and while we can be sure his sense of patriotism gnawed at him otherwise, his military training also told him that he was part of a team, and that team cohesion was essential to his mission as a Pittsburgh Steeler. Regardless, he was certainly right about one thing: His organization, his coach, and his teammates did look bad. And so did the rest of the NFL.

One got the sense, too, that the politically correct NFL hadn’t yet heard the last of Alejandro Villanueva — far from it.

As Paul Mirengoff reports, “This season, all of the Steelers except for Villanueva will wear the name of Antwon Rose on their helmets. Villanueva intends to wear the name of Alwyn Cashe, instead. Cashe, a black man, was a U.S. Army sergeant. He died of injuries suffered in Iraq in 2005. Rose, also black, was a criminal. He was part of a group that committed a drive-by shooting in the Pittsburgh area, and likely was the shooter.”

Mirengoff continues: “It’s shocking that the Pittsburgh Steelers want to honor a guy who participated in at least two drive-by shootings and was likely the shooter in one of them. How anyone could root for a team with such players is beyond me. Couldn’t the players have picked another ‘victim’ of ‘racial injustice’ to honor? Maybe not. It seems that Rose was the first person killed by the East Pittsburgh Police Department since at least 2015, and that no more deserving victim has come along since Rose’s death in 2018.”

Wait. Rose is the only person killed by the cops in East Pittsburgh in the past half-decade? So much for the myth of systemic police racism.

As for Alejandro Villanueva, we say kudos and Godspeed. Alwyn Cashe seems like an infinitely more honorable man than Antwon Rose. No one who reads Cashe’s Silver Star citation can come away anything but awestruck at his bravery. Indeed, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing to have Cashe’s Silver Star upgraded to the Medal of Honor. If it happens, it will be the first such medal awarded to a black man for service during the Iraq war.

But as for all the indignant anti-American scribes saying Villanueva has some explaining to do, we have one question: Do you and your woke NFL brethren embrace and honor real diversity, or don’t you?


(Updated.)

Since this story’s publication, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey has joined Villanueva in removing Antwon Rose’s name from his helmet. In a statement, Pouncey said he was “unaware of the whole story” surrounding Rose’s death.

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