The Dallas Cowboys are scheduled to play the Arizona Cardinals for Monday Night Football in the third week of the regular season.
Just a year ago, in August 2016, the NFL denied the Cowboys’ request to wear decals on their helmets that would have honored five Dallas police offers who were killed in an ambush. The team was wearing an “Arm in Arm” decal during training camp over the 2016 summer. But the NFL used its uniform regulations to prevent the team from wearing the decal during the regular season, Fox 4 News had reported in August.
The officers were killed by Micah Xavier Johnson who was upset about black people being killed by police and told a hostage negotiator that he “wanted to kill white people.”
Johnson was an Army veteran and was on active duty from September 2013 to April 2015. He deployed to Afghanistan from November 2013 to July 2014.
TMZ Sports reported at the time that Sgt. Demetrick Pennie, President of the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation, said it “hurt” that the NFL didn’t fully support the police department.
“The NFL had an opportunity to be leaders and advocates for change in law enforcement,” Pennie said. “These teams and players have a spotlight on them and could have helped bring awareness. If a uniform policy is keeping them from this, then why don’t they have every team wear the decals?”
Pennie also said the Dallas Cowboys “understand the sacrifices these officers made and we’re happy they wanted to honor these heroes.”
“These are our friends and our loved ones … it hurts to not have the NFL fully support us,” he added.
While the NFL prohibited the decals – what could be seen as an act of freedom of speech – the League has not said anything about regulations or rules regarding what is currently happening in the National Football League, as many players have been sitting or kneeling during the national anthem at NFL games in a form of protest.
The kneeling during the national anthem in protest began last year, when football player Colin Kaepernick took a knee to protest what he believes to be problems in America, namely police brutality and black inequality. Kaepernick was not signed by an NFL team this year.
The protests took on a renewed vigor on Sunday after President Donald Trump on Friday called on players to stand and show respect to the anthem and flag. Trump referred to a player who kneels as “a son of a b–ch.” and said they should be fired.
“We are proud of our country. We respect our flag,” Trump said. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘get that son of a b–ch off the field right now. He is fired. He’s fired!’”
“That’s a total disrespect of our heritage. That’s a total disrespect of everything we stand for,” Trump said, adding that while we have many freedoms, it’s still “totally disrespectful.”
If a fan sees a player take a knee, the fan should “leave the stadium… Pick up and leave,” Trump said Friday night, adding that fans wouldn’t be missing out, as NFL ratings have dropped.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told Fox this weekend that the national anthem is not the place to protest.
“I do not think the place to express yourself in society is as we recognize the American flag and all the people that have made this great country – the very opportunity for us to be there in front of the nation,” Jones said. “So that’s not the place to do anything but honor the flag and everybody that’s given up a little for it.”
The NFL Players Association has come out and said that they players are within their rights to do so, per the First Amendment and freedom of speech.
“We will never back down. We no longer can afford to stick to sports,” NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith tweeted.
Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner, said on Saturday:
“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we’ve experienced over the last month. Divisive comments like these [from President Trump] demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”
On Sunday, the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin announced that the team would stay in the locker room during the U.S. national anthem to avoid the controversy created by players kneeling during the U.S. national anthem.
However, one professional football player, Alejandro Villanueva, a Pittsburgh Steeler and U.S. Army Ranger veteran who deployed three times to Afghanistan, left the Steeler’s locker room to go to the field to show his respect for the anthem, the flag and those who have served, are serving and who have died defending the American way of life.
He received loud cheers when he stood and the rest of the team received boos when they eventually came to the field.
Villanueva stood alone at the entrance of the tunnel to the locker room, raising his hand over his heart and showing respect.
Villanueva graduated college from West Point, the United States Military Academy, and played football while at West Point. He was commissioned as an officer and attended Infantry, Airborne and Ranger schools. He deployed with the 10th Mountain Division for 12 months to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom – Afghanistan as a rifle platoon leader. He was awarded a Bronze Star Medal with “V” for valor for rescuing wounded soldiers while under enemy fire.
Villanueva volunteered for the 75th Ranger Regiment’s Ranger Orientation Program in 2013. He was assigned to the 1st Ranger Battalion. His roles within the Battalion have included plans officer, platoon leader and company executive officer.
He then deployed two more times to Afghanistan.
Villaneuva’s commendations include the Bronze Star Medal for Valor, the Ranger Tab, the Parachutist Badge, the Bronze Star Medal for overseas service, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Global War on Terrorism Service Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Combat Infantryman’s Badge and Expert Infantryman’s Badge.