Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle and former Army ranger Alejandro Villanueva made headlines Sunday when he stood alone on the field with his hand over his heart during the national anthem.
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Leading up to the game, coach Mike Tomlin said that the Steelers would not be on the field for the anthem after President Trump criticized NFL players who have knelt during the pre-game ceremony.
The protests began in 2016 with Colin Kaepernick, then of the San Francisco 49ers, and spread to dozens of other players on different teams. In response to Trump's comments, numerous players knelt, locked arms, or remained seated during the national anthem at games over the weekend.
But a day later, Villanueva expressed embarrassment about the situation, saying that it was actually an accident that he ended up standing by himself during the national anthem.
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During a news conference Monday, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said that at a meeting the night before the game against the Chicago Bears, some players suggested the team should kneel or sit during the anthem, while others wanted to stand.
In an effort to remain unified, the players decided they would all remain in the tunnel leading to the field, Roethlisberger said.
However, Villanueva said that in the moments before the game he ended up separated from his teammates as a group of Bears fans and people carrying a flag exited the field through the same tunnel.
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When Villanueva realized he was alone, he considered walking back to his teammates.
“At that moment, you know, it was the decision of, do you walk out of the national anthem and join your teammates?” he said. “I know that would look extremely bad. Or as a team, do you start moving halfway through the national anthem?”
“We butchered our plan to sort of have a response for the national anthem and respect everyone’s opinion,” he added.
Roethlisberger also expressed regret Monday, saying he wished “we would have continued down” to Villanueva.
Responding to the ensuing controversy Monday, Villanueva said that “this national anthem ordeal has been out of control,” adding that “I feel embarrassed to a degree.”
Pittsburgh Steelers / Via steelers.com
Villanueva said that both his team and other players in the NFL are “extremely patriotic” and that the team wasn't trying to make a political statement.
“I've made Coach [Mike] Tomlin look bad, and that is my fault and that is my fault only, I've made my teammates look bad and that is my fault and my fault only, and I made the Steelers look bad and that is my fault and my fault only,” he said.
“So unwilling I've made a mistake,” the player continued. “Unfortunately, I threw them under the bus, unintentionally.”
When asked about Trump's comments, Villanueva responded that “I'll stick to football” and said he had no comment. He also said that he wasn't going to tell anyone how they should respond to the national anthem.
“People who are taking a knee are not saying anything negative about the military, they’re not saying anything negative about the flag,” he said. “They’re just trying to protest the fact that there’s some injustices in America. And for people to stand up for the national anthem it doesn’t mean that they don’t believe in these racial injustices, they’re just trying to do the right thing.”