The most stark image from a day of stark images across the NFL on Sunday was of Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, standing alone outside the tunnel while the rest of his teammates remained inside. Earlier in the day, head coach Mike Tomlin announced that the Steelers would not be participating in the anthem. He made clear it wasn't a political statement, but just an effort to avoid being brought into a conversation they did not want to be in.
Then, just before the anthem began, Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who has been deployed to Afghanistan three times, appeared outside the tunnel. It was assumed that, as a veteran, Villanueva either got an exemption from the team's plan, or simply ignored it. Villanueva, however, finally spoke about it and basically said he fucked it all up. After asking Ben Roethlisberger if he could join the team captains, he thought he was going to be out front with them, but when he got out there and turned around to look for his teammates, the anthem had started and he was stuck. He couldn't leave then in the middle of the anthem. So, standing out there all alone, he put his hand over his heart. Now he feels like he threw his teammates and coach under the bus.
It's all a little confusing because Villanueva also said the team meeting they had on Saturday brought everyone together and that they "decided to stay away from the situation, not protest it, but stay away from the situation." But also that "everyone on the offensive line was very clear that they wanted to stand for the national anthem." Yet Villanueva was the only one standing outside, and Mike Tomlin specifically said that they weren't participating.
In any event, after another team meeting this morning, the Steelers have already announced that they will be outside for the anthem next week against the Ravens, and Ben Roethlisberger wrote on his website that he couldn't sleep last night because of the whole ordeal.
I was unable to sleep last night and want to share my thoughts and feelings on our team's decision to remain in the tunnel for the National Anthem yesterday. The idea was to be unified as a team when so much attention is paid to things dividing our country, but I wish we approached it differently. We did not want to appear divided on the sideline with some standing and some kneeling or sitting.
As a team, it was not a protest of the flag or the Anthem. I personally don't believe the Anthem is ever the time to make any type of protest. For me, and many others on my team and around the league, it is a tribute to those who commit to serve and protect our country, current and past, especially the ones that made the ultimate sacrifice.
Well, that was fun while it lasted.