The debate about whether football players should stand for the national anthem moved to the center of the national conversation last month. On Sunday, September 24, scores of National Football League players, knelt, sat or stayed in the locker room while the Star-Spangled Banner was played. What used to be a rote exercise that began all sports events suddenly became seen as an indicator of sympathy for the Black Lives Matter movement or antipathy for President Donald J. Trump.
The most telling moment in the controversy, however, may have come a day later, when one NFL player felt compelled to apologize. The contrarian was not one of those allegedly protesting the nation’s perceived shortcomings. It was, instead, a player who stood at attention and with his hand over his heart while the anthem was played.
Alejandro Villanueva was in the spotlight because he chose to stand and salute in sight of the fans — and the television cameras — at the entrance to the field while the rest of his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates stayed in their locker room. Within 24 hours, his number 78 Steelers jersey became the league’s best-selling merchandise. Villanueva was apparently quickly shamed by his team into expressing regret.
In the aftermath of his public browbeating, it did not take much deep analysis for many Americans to see that the factor that separated Villanueva from his teammates was his military service.
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