The National Anthem protests at NFL games this past weekend drew much media attention. Who stood and who didn’t was the talk of the nation, including the President. One Steelers player, though, went against the wishes of his coach and stood at the entrance of the tunnel for national anthem.
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin expressed disappointment that his player Alejandro Villanueva, did not remain with the rest of his team in the locker room during the pre-game national anthem ceremony on Sunday.
“Like I said, I was looking for 100 per cent participation, we were gonna be respectful of our football team,” Tomlin said after the game.
The 100 per cent participation he’s referring to is how the team would respond to the National Anthem if they had been on the field. If the team chose to kneel, he wanted all of them kneeling. If they stood, he wanted all of them standing. When the players couldn’t come to any agreement, he decided to keep them in the locker room until after the anthem.
But Left tackle Villanueva, a former soldier who served in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger, left the locker room and stood at the end of Chicago’s Soldier Field. The rest of his team was still in the locker room, or behind him in the tunnel. He was the only one visible.
Coach Tomlin’s desire to keep the team unified came from requests from his players. Some members of the team wanted to make a visible sign in opposition of President Trump’s messages on the anthem protests. Others were not going to sit for the anthem, no matter who weighed in.
“I asked those guys to discuss it and whatever they discussed that we have 100 per cent participation or we do nothing,” Tomlin said.
“We’re not going to play politics,” Tomlin said. “We’re football players, we’re football coaches. We’re not participating in the anthem today – not to be disrespectful to the anthem, but to remove ourselves from the circumstance.”
The Steelers sideline was empty. The Bears, who won the game, were on the sideline.
“People shouldn’t have to choose. If a guy wants to go about his normal business and participate in the anthem, he shouldn’t be forced to choose sides. If a guy feels the need to do something, he shouldn’t be separated from his teammate who chooses not to. But when we come out of locker rooms, we come out of locker rooms to play football games,” Tomlin concluded.