Two hours before their game against the Chicago Bears, head coach Mike Tomlin revealed his team would remain in the locker room during the pregame anthem ceremony.
“We’re not going to let divisive times or divisive individuals affect our agenda,” Tomlin told Jamie Erdahl of CBS. “This collection of men, we’re chasing something here in 2017, and we’re not going to play politics. We’re football players; we’re football coaches.
“We’re not participating in the anthem today. Not to be disrespectful to the anthem. To remove ourselves from this circumstance. People shouldn’t have to choose. If a guy wants to go about his business and participate in the anthem, he shouldn’t be forced to choose sides. If a guy chooses to do something, he shouldn’t be separated from his teammate who chooses not to.
“So we’re not participating today. That’s our decision. We’re going to be 100%. We came here to play a football game. That’s our intentions. We’re going to play and play to win.”
But one player couldn’t resist participating in the anthem—West Point graduate Alejandro Villanueva.
— Blitzburgh (@Steel_Curtain4) September 24, 2017
Villanueva earned a Bronze Star while serving as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan. According to Penn Live, he “sings every word of the national anthem before every game.”
But that doesn’t mean the 6’9″, 277-pound tackle lacks understanding for the cause for which players are protesting.
“I think he’s obviously upset and I think we all agree, I think the majority of America would agree that there’s an issue with minorities in our country and the way that certain groups of our population are being treated,” Villanueva said of Colin Kaepernick, who sparked the string of protests, in 2016.
“I just think that shotgun blast and not standing up for America is a little bit unfair on his part because it’s not really taking into consideration the minorities that are fighting for the flag, like myself — the thousands of people that are laying their lives to make sure that he can express himself. So it’s a double-edged sword. Yes you can sit down during the national anthem but know that by doing so you’re kind of praising the fact he can sit down and not have to stand up.”
One thing Tomlin was wrong about: that his team would win.
The Steelers lost to the Bears, 23-17.