Alejandro Villanueva stood alone outside the tunnel at Soldier Field with his hand over his heart Sunday afternoon while the rest of the Pittsburgh Steelers stayed out of sight while the national anthem played before their game against the Chicago Bears.
One day later, the offensive tackle who has served three tours in Afghanistan had the bestselling jersey in the NFL.
Browsing for jerseys on the online NFL Shop under the listing of top sellers on Monday morning, one would find Villanueva’s No. 78 at the head of the page, before the jerseys of such stars as the Oakland Raiders’ Marshawn Lynch and Derek Carr, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz and the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers.
The same goes for Villanueva name and number T-shirts.
A spokesman for Fanatics, which runs the NFL's online store, confirmed to ESPN that Villanueva has been outselling that of any other player during the last 24 hours.
Villanueva is hardly a household name, or at least he wasn’t before Sunday. But he garnered a lot of attention on a day that numerous players around the NFL demonstrated — by kneeling, sitting, locking arms or other means — during the national anthem. Earlier in the weekend, President Trump commented at a rally that team owners should fire players who do not stand during the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
The Steelers made a team decision Saturday night to remain in the tunnel as the song played in an attempt to stay out of the political discussion.
“We are not politicians, we're coaches and professional athletes,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “If those of us or individuals choose to participate in politics in some way I'm going to be supportive of that, but when we come out of locker rooms we come out to play football games. To be quite honest with you, I didn't appreciate our football team being dragged into politics this weekend.”
Villanueva made his own decision to act otherwise. Asked after the game what he thought about Villanueva’s action during the anthem, Tomlin said: "I was looking for 100% participation. We were gonna be respectful of our football team."
But Steelers cornerback Joe Haden said the players support Villanueva. “As a team we're behind him 100%,” he said.