Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin wanted to play football, not politics.
Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva felt he had a higher duty.
Thus, the former Army Ranger was the only Steeler visible on Sunday during the playing of the national anthem before the Steelers took on the Chicago Bears.
Tomlin admitted that two days after President Donald Trump tweeted out his condemnation of anthem protests, sparking a fierce negative reaction among NFL players, he wanted unity. Tomlin had said before the game that the team would not be on the field for the anthem, citing the players’ decision.
Afterward, he said he wanted to respected what his players felt was best.
“Like I said, I was looking for 100 percent participation, we were gonna be respectful of our football team,” Tomlin said.
He said he let the players decide, with one condition.
“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.
“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,” he added, saying the team decided to remain out of view.
Tomlin said his focus was the game, not the anthem.
“We’re not politicians. We’re coaches and professional athletes,” Tomlin said Sunday. “If those of us or individuals choose to participate in politics in some way I’m going to be supportive of that. But when we come out of locker rooms, we come out of locker rooms to play football games.”
Offensive tackle Chris Hubbard said the players, by a slim majority, voted in favor of staying off the field instead of standing on the sideline holding hands, but that players knew Villanueva was going to do what he wanted.
“Al was cool with it, with whatever we went through. He was on board. That’s Al, man,” Hubbard told Penn Live. “He’s a good guy.”
“We thought we were all in attention with the same agreement, obviously,” said linebacker James Harrison. “But, I guess we weren’t.”
Villanueva, A Bronze Star recipient who three tours of duty in Afghanistan, has said there is a difference between changing society and protesting during the anthem.
“I agree that America is not perfect, I agree there are lot of issues with minorities in this country, I agree we should do something about it,” Villanueva in August 2016, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “But I don’t know if the most effective way is to sit down when the national anthem of the country that is providing you freedom and providing you $16 million a year is the best way to do it when there are black minorities that are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan and protecting our freedom for less than $20,000 a year.”
“I just know I’m very thankful to be an American,” Villanueva said. “I will stand very proudly and sing every single line of the national anthem every single time I hear it. I will stop whatever I’m doing because I recognize I have to be very thankful to be in this country.”
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