CHICAGO — When the national anthem started at Soldier Field, the visiting sideline was mostly empty. The most prominent evidence of the Pittsburgh Steelers was offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva standing by himself near the tunnel, holding his right hand over his heart.
It was one strange day for one of the NFL’s most revered franchises.
Except for Villanueva, the Steelers stayed off the sideline during the anthem in.
However, the next day Villanueva explained that he did not intend to make any kind of political statement, CBS Pittsburgh station KDKA reported.
“Unfortunately I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally,” Villanueva said at a press conference Monday. “Every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself I feel embarrassed.
“I made my teammates look bad, and that is my fault, and my fault only,” Villanueva said. “We as a team tried to figure it out, but obviously butchered it.”
The Steelers held a players-only meeting Saturday night to discuss their options in the wake of Trump’s suggestion that NFL owners fire players who kneel for the national anthem. A handful of NFL players have refused to stand during the “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest several issues, including police brutality.
“Some guys wanted to take a knee, guys wanted to stand,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “We said whatever we do we need to make sure we’re unified as one group because that’s what we’re about and that’s what this should be about is staying together as one unit and one group and one brotherhood, things like that.
“So rather than have some guys kneel and some guys stand, the conclusion was made kind of by everybody that the best thing to do was just to stay in the locker room or in the tunnel if you will.”
But Villanueva, an Army veteran, emerged from the tunnel and stood outside for the anthem, holding his helmet by his side.
Villanueva led a platoon…