Alejandro Villanueva was the only member of the Pittsburgh Steelers to come out of the tunnel for the national anthem on Sunday. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, that surprised many members of the team.
On Monday, Villanueva explained that a misunderstanding led to him standing alone for the anthem. It was not an indication that his teammates didn’t support him.
“So I think my teammates respected this thoroughly,” Villanueva said. “It was just not communicated, and the plan did not allow them the chance to get out and support me, or maybe go back to the lab and sit five more hours before the game and figure out a plan.”
Villanueva said that he had “unintentionally” thrown his teammates under the bus, and that he is “embarrassed” by the photo of him standing alone for the anthem.
Villanueva is a former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan and has an endorsement deal with USAA. Fowler reports that he was a “key figure” in the planning of the protest because of his background.
“I don't want to go into that, but we support our guy, Al,” Cam Heyward said via ESPN. “He feels he had to do it. This guy served our country, and we thank him for it.”
“We thought we were all in attention with the same agreement, obviously,” James Harrison told PennLive. “But I guess we weren't.”
According to PennLive, members of the Steelers met to debate and vote on how they would respond to President Donald Trump’s comments suggesting NFL owners fire players who kneel during the anthem. Prior to the vote, the players came to an understanding that whatever was voted on, they would all participate.
PennLive reports that 15 players spoke before the vote, including Chris Hubbard, Ramon Foster, James Harrison, Cameron Heyward, Vance McDonald, Mike Mitchell, Maurkice Pouncey, Ben Roethlisberger, Villanueva, and Vince Williams.
After the game, coach Mike Tomlin told reporters, “We will not be divided on this. We got a group of men in there that come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, creed, ethnicities and religions, and so forth. That's football. That's a lot of team sports, but because of our position, we get drug into bullshit, to be quite honest with you.”
He added, “Some have opinions. Some don't. We wanted to protect those that don't. We wanted to protect those that do.”
In the future, the Steelers will be out for the national anthem, according to Ben Roethlisberger.