Villanueva Stands Alone, Fans Stand Up

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Ajejandro Villanueva

Last year, the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick sat out and eventually took to one knee during the opening National Anthem of the NFL games he played in, stating that he was "not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." It was a controversial move then, and remains one even today as more and more players have opted to join with him in solidarity. What was the action of one man became the action of a few, which then became the action of many, until the point where entire teams began to "take a knee" or simply not show up on the field at all during the playing of the anthem.

Fast forward to September 24, 2017, Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois. As the National Anthem began to play, the lineup of the Chicago Bears stood with arms locked -- a message of solidarity with Kaepernick's concerns without taking the "Tim Tebow pose" and a response to President Donald Trump's comments on the still-going protest that many have said disrespects the flag and those who have died for it. Their opponents for this game, the Pittsburgh Steelers, had opted to remain off the field until after the anthem had been played.

What they didn't expect was for Pittsburgh's left tackle, former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva, to emerge from the visiting team tunnel to stand--alone--for the anthem. Suddenly the story has shifted from "look how many kneel" to "look at that guy standing up alone."  One is made to recall the biblical story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who stood out by standing up when everyone else bowed down on command, and I'm sure Villanueva has been facing his own blowback by way of the fiery furnace of social media.

Fans, on the other hand, have rallied around their new hero. Within 24 hours, VIllanueva had the top selling jersey in the NFL shop as fans began to speak with their wallets.

Falling ratings and declining attendance has had the NFL in a quandary about what to do to get the fans back. If they can follow the money trail and the concept of cause-and-effect, perhaps they'll find their answer in the lesson of Alejandro Villanueva:

Stand for something.