Alejandro Villanueva presenting Army helmet decals for Veterans Day weekend

Friday, 10 November 2017, 06:58:40 PM. PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers will recognize Veterans Day this weekend by wearing helmet decals representing the various Army divisions in an effort led by?left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Villanueva, whose background as a former Army Ranger made him a prominent figure in the...

PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers will recognize Veterans Day this weekend by wearing helmet decals representing the various Army divisions in an effort led by?left tackle Alejandro Villanueva.

Villanueva, whose background as a former Army Ranger made him a prominent figure in the league's controversy over the national anthem, told ESPN he is presenting each Steelers teammate with an Army decal to wear for Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts. A player will represent one Army division, as Villanueva has decals representing 13 different divisions that he will spread around the locker room.

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"It's just a small-unit patch that really doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things, but the history behind it means the whole world to a lot of veterans," Villanueva said. "They died for that patch. When you watch the Steelers on Sunday and you see the flash of the 10th [Mountain] division and the 7th [Infantry] division ... you're calling out specific units."

Villanueva was part of two divisions, 10th Mountain and 75th Ranger Regiment, and served in Afghanistan before becoming an NFL player.

He is pairing the decals with players whose personalities match the spirit of a specific division. Villanueva received the decals from the Army football team and said he has cleared their game-day usage through the Steelers.

As an example of his process, Villanueva will give right tackle Chris Hubbard the 101st Airborne "Screaming Eagles" Division decal because the player and division are known for reserved but efficient workmanship. Backup quarterback Landry Jones gets the 1st Armored Division in part because Jones knows Villanueva's brother-in-law, who served with that division.

During protests in Week 3, Villanueva stood alone outside of the tunnel during the national anthem, which he and other players classified as a confusion in the Steelers' attempt to respond to President Donald Trump's explosive comments about NFL players days earlier.

Villanueva said Veterans Day was an ideal time to honor soldiers through the decals since the NFL allows it this week. He has notified coach Mike Tomlin of his plans.

But Villanueva knows that alone won't bridge what he calls a growing divide between the NFL and parts of the military. He notices this when he visits veteran hospitals every Tuesday.

"There's tension between the veteran community and the NFL. You go to VFWs, and they won't show NFL games," Villanueva said. "[Veterans] don't know if it's, 'Do we have to live in a utopian, perfect country for you to stand up for the national anthem?' It's a very tough concept for a lot of veterans to understand. I go back and forth because I'm in the middle of this whole thing. I'm a football player, but obviously the flag is the most important thing to me while I'm in this country.

"At the end of the day, people love football. It's a reality. We shouldn't deprive ourselves of this great sport because of the unfortunate things that are surrounding things happening off the field."

Villanueva has felt miscast during the anthem fallout, saying the media has used him "as a tool" for their agenda. He has been firm on supporting the flag while also respecting the rights of his teammates.

Though he has noticed the NFL is trying to assuage this public relations problem, Villanueva said the decals simply acknowledge how he compares his teammates to "elite groups of men."

"I'm not honoring veterans. I'm honoring my friends and family," Villanueva said. "For me, it's a daily thing. It's not, 'Let's honor Veterans Day and let's make sure we do our camo gear and switch to another cause.' For me, it's a cause 24/7."

Villanueva would have loved to have used Navy decals, but that's a football rival.

"I'm not going to reach out to Navy football -- under no circumstances," he said.

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