When the Pittsburg Steelers collectively made the decision to stay in the locker room during Sunday’s National Anthem, the decision was met with harsh criticism. But while the Steelers’ sideline was empty, one player, Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, was seen standing for the anthem just outside the team’s tunnel. Thousands applauded Villanueva’s stance, but it turns out it was “unintentional.”
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In a press conference Monday, Villanueva explained it was never his intention to be alone out on the field. CBS Pittsburgh reported the former ranger had unintentionally wandered too far along the tunnel, and then heard the national anthem starting. Instead of walking back in, he decided to remain where he was.
“When we came out of the locker room into that tunnel, it was a very small area. There was a flag or something coming off the field so there were a bunch of Bears fans, coming off the field holding that going in front of us, so it kind of held us up.”
He said he thought his team was running out behind him, but he was alone. “Unfortunately I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally,” Villanueva said. “Every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself I feel embarrassed.”
In the same press conference, the veteran says he feels bad about how everything happened. “I made my teammates look bad, and that’s my fault, and my fault only,” Villanueva said. “We as a team tried to figure it out, but obviously butchered it.”
Towards the end of his press conference, Villanueva explained that he doesn’t believe that kneeling during the anthem is a negative expression towards the military.
“People that are taking a knee are not saying anything negative about the military, they’re not saying anything negative about the flag, they’re just trying to protest that there are some injustices in America.”
Initially, the team, along with its coaching staff, had decided to stay in the locker room during the anthem. Since then, numerous players including Ben Roethlisberger, the team’s quarterback, have stated that they regret the decision.
Fox News reported that after the video of Villanueva standing alone during the anthem went viral, his jersey was the best-selling jersey on NFL.com.
The 29-year-old served three tours in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger before being drafted into the NFL by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014, according to ESPN.