Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, was the only Steeler to break from the team’s orders and come out of the tunnel Sunday in Chicago to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Speaking after his team’s 23-17 loss to the Bears, Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin took aim at the Bronze Star recipient’s decision to honor his country.
“Like I said, I was looking for 100 percent participation, we were gonna be respectful of our football team,” Tomlin said.
Tomlin told the media that, prior to kickoff Sunday, the Steelers held a team meeting and decided to not come out of the locker room for the national anthem. Tomlin added the intent was to have his team focus on the game and not President Trump’s comments urging teams to fire players who chose to protest during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“Many of them felt like something needed to be done. I asked those guys to discuss it and whatever they discussed that we have 100 percent participation or we do nothing,” Tomlin said after the game. “They discussed it for an appropriate length of time and they couldn’t come to an understanding, so they chose to remove themselves from it. They were not going to be disrespectful in the anthem so they chose not to participate, but at the same time many of them were not going to accept the words of the president.”
Villanueva, who served three tours in Afghanistan, decided to stand his ground instead and placed his hand over his heart while the anthem played.
“We’re not politicians. We’re coaches and professional athletes,” Tomlin said Sunday. “If those of us or individuals choose to participate in politics in some way I’m going to be supportive of that. But when we come out of locker rooms, we come out of locker rooms to play football games.”
Offensive tackle Chris Hubbard told Penn Live that the players, by a slim majority, voted in favor of staying off the field instead of standing on the sideline holding hands.
“We thought we were all in attention with the same agreement, obviously,” linebacker James Harrison told the website. “But, I guess we weren’t.”
However, Hubbard said everyone in the locker room accepted that Villanueva would be exempt from the team’s decision.
“Al was cool with it, with whatever we went through. He was on board. That’s Al, man,” Hubbard said. “He’s a good guy.”
Villanueva has previously spoken out about former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit and kneel during the national anthem, saying his actions may “send the wrong message.”
“I don’t know if the most effective way is to sit down during the national anthem with a country that’s providing you freedom, providing you $16 million a year…when there are black minorities that are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan for less than $20,000 a year,” Villanueva told ESPN in 2016.