Steelers coach responds after former Army Ranger stands alone for anthem

Posted at 10:39 AM, Sep 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-25 10:11:13-04

After President Trump made comments over the weekend that players should be "suspended or fired" for protesting the national anthem, the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to sit out the national anthem.

Head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters before Sunday's game in Chicago against the Bears that his team wouldn't be participating in the anthem because 

"(It's) not to be disrespectful to the anthem, but it's to remove ourselves from the circumstance. People shouldn't have to choose. If a guy wants to go about his normal business and participate for the anthem, he shouldn't have to be forced to choose sides," Tomlin told CBS.

During the anthem, Tomlin and a handful of coaches stood on a largely empty Pittsburgh sideline without any players. However, one Steeler emerged from the locker room in order to stand for the national anthem.

Alejandro Villanueva stood in the tunnel to the Pittsburgh locker room with his hand over his heart while the "Star Spangled Banner" played.

Villanueva played football at Army and served as an Army Ranger before entering the NFL. Last season, he made comments critical of San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick, whose anthem protest touched off other anthem protests around the league.

"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. "It's his decision. Obviously he has brought up the issue in a great way. But I think if he encourages other players or other people in the stands to sit down, it's going to send the wrong message.

Tomlin said in his postgame comments that he wanted the team to be unified in its decision. 

"Like I said, I was looking for a 100 percent participation," Tomlin said according to the official transcript. "We’re going to be respectful of our football team. Man, these are divisive times in the United States. and it’s a shame, but it is, but we’re not politicians."