In the 24 hours after Alejandro Villanueva, the only Steeler who exited the tunnel and stood in view for the national anthem, incidentally appeared to go against his team amid numerous protests across the league. After the action, his jersey became the best-selling one through popular sports apparel and merchandise retailer, Fanatics, outselling perennial favorites, including quarterbacks like Tom Brady.
As reported by Bloomberg, the ex-Army Ranger and offensive tackle with the Pittsburg Steelers chose to stand just outside of the tunnel as the national anthem played. Villanueva stood with his hand over his heart while the rest of his team remained off the field.
Fanatics stated that Villanueva’s No. 78 jersey quickly became the best-seller across the entire league. The sales analysis included items bought through Fanatics various platforms, including the official online NFL shop.
The remaining jerseys rounding out the top five most popular options include quarterbacks Tom Brady, Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, and Aaron Rodgers, all of whom are less tied to the current controversy in the NFL.
Villanueva, who completed three tours in Afghanistan during his time in the Army, now asserts that a miscommunication is why he was standing alone and that “people that are taking a knew are not saying anything negative about the military, they’re not saying anything negative about the flag, they’re just trying to protest that there are some injustices in America.”
While viewers and media initially believed Villanueva was acting in defiance of the protests against President Donald Trump’s harsh words against players who chose to kneel or otherwise protest during the national anthem, he revealed that he had discussed the idea of being at the end of the tunnel with team captains.
Villanueva said, “Unfortunately, I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally,” continuing, “Every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself I feel embarrassed.”
“I unintentionally left me teammates behind,” stated Villanueva. “I wasn’t planning to boycott the plan the Steelers came up with.”
Jersey sales can be seen as an indication as to how fans are reacting to the national anthem protests throughout the league. Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who is attributed with beginning the protest movement, still has a jersey that breaks into the top 40 of sales even though he is not currently employed by any team.
Kaepernick began taking a knee during the national anthem in the 2016-17 season in an effort to boost awareness in support of criminal justice reform and the need to address issues of police brutality.
When Trump commented on the subject of players sitting or kneeling during the national anthem, saying, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired,’” additional players decided to participate in protests, in various forms.
Television ratings for games during the first weeks of the NFL season have noticeably declined, and it is believed that the protests are at least partially responsible for falling viewership.