Before Alejandro Villanueva was an NFL player he was an Army Ranger who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan and was awarded a Bronze Star for valor. Last Sunday, Villanueva went from little-known offensive lineman to political storyline after he was the only Steelers player on the field for the national anthem.
After the game, some Steelers players admitted they were surprised Villanueva took the field but on Monday we learned that Villanueva had been separated from his teammates moments before the anthem began and he wasn't going to walk off the field during the anthem to rejoin them.
This Sunday, shortly after the Steelers beat the Ravens in Baltimore -- and several hours after every member of the Steelers stood for the national anthem -- Villanueva called out the media for its part in pushing a false narrative took on a life of its own.
"To wake up in the morning and see the face of coach Tomlin and the face of a soldier pitted against each other is completely unacceptable -- from the media," Villanueva said, via ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler. "To use me as a tool to push agendas and to push message is completely unacceptable.
"I love my teammates, I love Coach Tomlin, I love this organization and I love coming to work."
Here's the original image that went viral:
And here's another view, showing Villanueva's teammates standing behind him in the tunnel.
"Every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself, I feel embarrassed," Villanueva said last week. "This national anthem ordeal has sort of been out of control, and there's a lot of blame on myself. Every single one of my teammates is extremely supportive and extremely patriotic. I can honestly say that. ...
"Unfortunately, I threw (my teammates) under the bus, unintentionally," he continued. "I made Coach Tomlin look bad, and that is my fault and my fault only. I made my teammates look bad, and that is my fault. ... For anybody who thinks that Coach Tomlin is not as patriotic as you can get in America ... I'm offended by that. I will support all my teammates, and all my teammates and all my coaches have always supported me.
A day after Villanueva first addressed the media, Tomlin was as angry as we've ever seen him when fielding questions about pregame demonstrations.
Good news for Villanueva and Tomlin: The Steelers appear to be done with pregame demonstrations.
"We just have to stay positive and do what we can to change the conversation back to being positive about being united around our football team," team president Art Rooney II said week. "I think our players understand our fans don't want to go to a game and watch a protest. And I think our players prefer to just go out on the field and play football. ... Last Sunday was the first time, you know, we ever had any kind of incident with regards to the anthem. It's over, as far as I'm concerned."