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National Anthem has special meaning for Villanueva

Alejandro Villanueva was hesitant at first to address the conversation generated over San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick making the decision not to stand during the National Anthem before the team's games as part of a political statement. Villanueva is respectful of the fact that everyone has the freedom to express themselves in whatever manner they see fit.

But after being asked several times during the Steelers' open locker room session at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Monday morning what his thoughts were, Villanueva shared his take on the topic.

Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan, holds the National Anthem close to his heart. The Steelers offensive tackle, who is of Spanish descent, also holds America close to his heart and is thankful for the opportunities it has provided him.

Villanueva offered his thoughts on the topic.

"This is the best country in the world," said Villanueva. "If you go to another country, as a minority, I can tell you that there isn't a country with minorities in the world that handles the issues that we have in our country like we do. Everybody has a voice. Everybody has a platform. I don't think we are perfect by any means. Just a couple of days ago, there was a service member killed in Afghanistan. It's one of those things – there are people that are fighting just so you can say and do whatever you please.

"I agree that America is not perfect. I agree that there are a lot of issues with minorities in this country. And I agree that we should do something about it. But I don't know if the most effective way is to sit down when the National Anthem of a country that has provided you freedom and is providing you $60 million a year is the best way to do it, when there are black minorities that are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan that are protecting our freedom for less than $20,000 a year. So, it's his decision. Obviously he has brought up the issue in a great way, but I think if he encourages other players or other people in the stands to sit down, it's going to send the wrong message. And I think he has to be a little more careful and look at the big picture of the things that he is doing, because as a service member, I have to understand it. I have to understand that. But he's an athlete. He has a huge platform. He has to see the impact that he has on a lot of people's lives. I don't think it's the most effective way."

Villanueva said he takes great pride every time he hears the National Anthem.

"I will stand very proudly, and I will sing every single line in the National Anthem every single time I hear it," said Villanueva. "I will stop whatever I am doing, because I recognize that I have to be very thankful to be in this country. They taught me that at West Point. It was one of the first lessons they teach you on day one. So I know the words. They mean a lot to me. It's a song they play at every military funeral and at every ceremony. It actually means a lot to me, but I don't expect people to have that feeling when they hear the National Anthem and whatnot. Obviously, my life has changed dramatically since I came to this country. And for me, it's great opportunity. I'm very grateful to be an American, I'm very blessed and I'm very appreciative of people who have sacrificed so much to provide me with this quality of life.

"I tell my teammates all the time, especially when they talk about contracts, I am one of the cheapest left tackles in the NFL. I always tell everybody, just by being an American, I've won three lotteries. If I have a little bit of money on top of that, then I've won three-and-a-half lotteries. It's very difficult for me to be here in America, as grateful as I am, in the best country in the world, and have people not be pleased about it. Again, we have a system that allows people to do that, so we have to respect it. We have to understand that people are trying to express their voice as well."

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