The Pittsburgh Steelers decided as a team to remain in the locker room before their game Sunday while the national anthem was being played, but one player strayed from the pack and walked out of the tunnel to pay tribute to the American flag. That player now has the hottest selling jersey in the NFL.
Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan, has seen a massive spike in his jersey sales over the past 24 hours. As Chuck Schilken of the Los Angeles Times discovered, Villanueva’s No. 78 jersey is the first one that appears in the online NFL Shop under the list of top sellers. The same is true for name and number T-shirts.
A spokesman for Fantatics, the company that runs the NFL’s online store, confirmed to ESPN’s Darren Rovell that Villanueva was the best-selling player by midday on Monday. The 29-year-old beat out star quarterbacks Tom Brady, Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott and Aaron Rodgers, who were the other four players in the top five.
Villanueva’s decision to leave his team in the locker room and emerge from the tunnel drew mixed reaction from the Steelers organization. Head coach Mike Tomlin said he was “looking for 100 percent participation,” and ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that several Steelers players were surprised Villanueva took the field.
“I don’t want to go into that, but we support our guy Al. He feels he had to do it,” defensive end Cam Hayward said. “This guy served our country, and we thank him for it.”
Veteran linebacker James Harrison admitted he was unaware of Villanueva’s intentions.
“We thought we were all in attention with the same agreement, obviously,” he said. “But I guess we weren’t.”
National anthem protests were more widespread than ever across the NFL Sunday in the wake of Donald Trump saying team owners should fire players who choose to protest. Villanueva’s sudden spike in popularity proves that many fans were not on board with players protesting, which is something we knew from the way fans in New England reacted to Patriots players kneeling during the anthem.