Well before he signed a lucrative new four-year contract just prior to his participation in training camp this summer, Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva already had a penchant for ‘paying it forward’ so to speak, using his newfound resources as a well-paid professional football player to aid and support those that he worked with, either physically or metaphorically, in the armed forces.
This is something that I wrote about back in the spring, and was a topic of conversation when he appeared on Adam Schefter’s podcast. He liked to fly veterans out to games, eat meals with them, and generally give them an NFL experience that they otherwise would not have.
At the time, he said that he was proud to be “able to say at least I’m keeping these people in mind, all the NFL attention that I could be getting right now is at least being shared with the real heroes, the guys who served with me and are getting no recognition for their service”.
This came while he was making the NFL equivalent of minimum wage. Since that interview, he signed a four-year, $24 million contract that included $6.5 million as a signing bonus with a $1.5 million base salary, giving him a total payout of $8 million upfront.
He said during the aforementioned interview that he would like to do more, and that the more opportunity he is given, the more that he plans to do. He also made his first Pro Bowl this season, and he did use that as an opportunity to do more.
As Drew Brooks of Stars and Stripes wrote recently, the NFL and Villanueva worked with the TAPS organization—the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors—to help bring the families of slain soldiers out to Orlando for an experience, including a trip to Disney World.
I suppose that anybody reading this is aware of the fact that Villanueva himself is an Army veteran, having served multiple tours of duty in active war zones, including as a Ranger, and has been decorated for his conduct as a result.
Needless to say, especially over the course of the past year, the 29-year-old has seen his profile raised dramatically. He was unintentionally thrust into the national spotlight courtesy of a Steelers kerfuffle in Chicago that ended up with him being viewed as a rebel patriot, and many even outside of football have since taken to him, helping land him in the top jersey sales list.
Villanueva’s dual life places him in unique and interesting circumstances and perspectives that few can fully relate to. He is not somebody that enjoys the spotlight, but when he has it, he aims to redirect it on others.
His participation in this TAPS event—and surely a number of unpublicized acts as he called it “now habitual” for him to eat with fellow soldiers prior to games—is part of his ongoing drive to give back to those who gave of themselves. It’s easy to see why he is so well-liked.