Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva received a sizeable boost in popularity after defying his team’s plan to sit out the national anthem.
Gear bearing Villanueva’s name and No. 78 is outsold any other NFL player’s on the league’s official store for the 24-hour period beginning around Sunday’s kickoff, a spokesman for the company that runs the store told ESPN’s Darren Rovell.
Steelers players decided to stay in the locker room during the pregame anthem on Sunday, in an effort to avoid the controversy of whether players would stand or kneel. Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who played collegiately at the U.S. Military Academy, stood with his hand over his heart in the tunnel by himself during the anthem. His decision caught some teammates off guard, though others supported him. Head coach Mike Tomlin was also surprised, saying he thought the team had come to a unanimous decision.
Villanueva said Monday that he threw his teammates “under the bus, unintentionally,” and made them and Tomlin “look bad.”
Villanueva, 29, was born in Mississippi to Spanish parents. After graduating from West Point, he served three tours of duty in Afghanistan as a second lieutenant. He received the Bronze Star Medal for valor in recognition of his actions during a Taliban ambush.