UPDATE 3:07: initial reports were that the team stayed in the locker room. A better description is that they stayed off the field, which places Coach Tomlin’s comments in better context.
Today, for their game against the Chicago Bears, the entire Pittsburgh Steelers football team remained in their locker room during the national anthem. Except for one, 29 year old OT and former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva. See video above. The Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans did the same. Around the country, most players locked arms in solidarity in response to Trump’s comments.
SBNation reports that Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made the decision because he didn’t want his team to be part of a difficult political discussion, with some kneeling and others standing two days after President Trump called the protesting NFL players “sons of bitches” who should be fired.
Villanueva, an army veteran who joined the NFL in 2014 was initially critical of Colin Kaepernick, the now sidelined quarterback for the San Francisco 49’ers who made comments critical of the United States and refused to stand for the national anthem in protest.
“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.”
However, since Kaepernick’s protest it has now metastasized into something bigger, and a bit less angry, into a more simple protest about police brutality in America’s most troubled cities. Villanueva had some contrasting comments regarding that as well.
“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,” Villanueva said. “You can’t do it by looking away from the people that are trying to protect our freedom and our country.”
On Friday, President Trump held a rally in Alabama where he demanded they “get that son of a bitch off the field,” and fire them for protesting. He also encouraged fans to walk out of the stadium if players kneel.