Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle and former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva (78) stands outside the tunnel alone during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
For Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, being “respectful of our football team” trumped the right of Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva to show respect for the national anthem.
A former Army Ranger, Villanueva was the only player from the team to break from the coach’s orders and come out of the tunnel Sunday in Chicago to stand for The Star Spangled Banner.
Speaking after his team's 23-17 loss to the Bears, Tomlin appeared to take a swipe at the Bronze Star recipient's decision.
“Like I said, I was looking for 100 percent participation, we were gonna be respectful of our football team,” Tomlin said.
Tomlin told the media prior to kickoff Sunday the Steelers would not come out of the locker room for the national anthem, adding the intent was to have his team focus on the game and not President Trump’s comments blasting players who chose to protest during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner.
“Many of them felt like something needed to be done. I asked those guys to discuss it and whatever they discussed that we have 100 percent participation or we do nothing,” Tomlin said after the game. “They discussed it for an appropriate length of time and they couldn’t come to an understanding, so they chose to remove themselves from it. They were not going to be disrespectful in the anthem so they chose not to participate, but at the same time many of them were not going to accept the words of the president.”
Villanueva, who served three tours in Afghanistan, decided to stand his ground instead and placed his hand over his heart while the anthem played.
Villanueva has previously spoken out about former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem, saying his actions may “send the wrong message.”
“I don’t know if the most effective way is to sit down during the national anthem with a country that’s providing you freedom, providing you $16 million a year…when there are black minorities that are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan for less than $20,000 a year," Villanueva told ESPN in 2016.
He added: “I will be the first one to hold hands with Colin Kaepernick and do something about the way minorities are being treated in the United States, the injustice that is happening with police brutality, the justice system, inequalities in pay. You can’t do it by looking away from the people that are trying to protect our freedom and our country.”