Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva surprised his teammates on Sunday when he became the squad’s only player to stand for the national anthem before their 23-17 overtime loss to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

NFL national anthem protests news

The 6-foot-8, 320-pound Villanueva — a former Army Ranger who served terms in Afghanistan — was the only Steeler to emerge from the tunnel despite an agreement made during Saturday’s players-only meeting that the entire squad would stay in the locker room, sources stated.

According to ESPN, players said they wished to accommodate Villanueva, who said during Saturday’s meeting that he did not want to be singled out. The Steelers decided to move their protest off the field as a way to maintain solidarity without isolating any players.

Asked what played into Villanueva’s leaving the tunnel, defensive end Cam Heyward said: “I don’t want to go into that, but we support our guy Al. He feels he had to do it. This guy served our country, and we thank him for it.”


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James Harrison told PennLive.com that he did not think anyone was exempt from the pregame plan.

“We thought we were all in attention with the same agreement, obviously,” Harrison told PennLive.com. “But I guess we weren’t.”

Villanueva, 29, has previously said he supports other players’ disdain of racial injustice, although he has added that as a military veteran, he refuses to sit during the playing of the anthem. The lineman, who joined the Steelers in 2014, signed a four-year, $24 million extension with the team in July.

“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 once said.

Jersey sales for Villanueva increased significantly after his decision to stand for the anthem. However, Villanueva later said he regretted his decision, and that he felt like he let his teammates down.

Several NFL teams engaged in anthem protests — sitting, kneeling, linking arms with teammates and law enforcement — over the weekend as a way to express opposition to comments made by President Donald Trump, who called on football fans to boycott games until the league or team owners fire or suspend players who “disrespect” the flag or anthem. 

“If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our country, you will see change take place fast,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter early Sunday morning, on the second weekend morning in a row in which he vented over the issue on social media. “Fire or suspend!”

The tweets followed comments Trump made at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama on Friday.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired!” Trump said, alluding to players like unsigned quarterback Colin Kaepernickwho first started the protests when he sat during the national anthem before a preseason game in August 2016.

The President also criticized the NFL for instituting new rules at the annual league meeting earlier this year intended to reduce the occurrence of concussions and other series injuries.

League commissioner Roger Goodell condemned Trump for his remarks, calling his rhetoric “divisive,” and several players also lambasted the President on social media.

“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture,” Goodell said in a statement. “There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we’ve experienced over the last month. Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”

“The way we reacted today, and this weekend, made me proud,” Goodell — who is reportedly finalizing a contract extension — added Sunday evening. “I’m proud of our league.”

Tom Brady, a renown close friend of Trump, said in an interview Monday morning that he disagreed with the President’s comments, and even locked arms with wide receiver Phillip Dorsett and placed his other hand over his heart before the New England Patriots’ 36-33 home victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday.

“Yeah, I certainly disagree with what he said. I thought it was just divisive,” Brady said on the Kirk & Callahan show on WEEI. “Like I said, I just want to support my teammates. I am never one to say: ‘Oh, that is wrong. That is right.’ I do believe in what I believe in. I believe in bringing people together and respect and love and trust. Those are the values that my parents instilled in me. That is how I try and live every day.”

The protests have not been limited to the NFL, however. On Saturday night, Oakland Athletics rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first MLB player to kneel during the national anthem when he did so before the team’s 1-0 home victory over the Texas Rangers.

“My decision has been coming for a long time,” Maxwell, the son of a U.S. Army veteran, said after the game. “I know I was on the fence for a long time because I know no one in baseball has ever done it. I finally got to the point where I thought the inequality of man is being discussed, and it’s being practiced from our president.

“The point of my kneeling is not to disrespect our military, it’s not to disrespect our Constitution, it’s not to disrespect this country. … My hand over my heart symbolizes the fact that I am and I’ll forever be an American citizen, and I’m more than grateful to be here. But my kneeling is what is getting the attention because I’m kneeling for the people that don’t have a voice.

“And this goes beyond the black community, and this goes beyond the Hispanic community, because right now we’re having an indifference and a racial divide in all types of people. It’s being practiced from the highest power that we have in this country, and it’s basically saying that it’s OK to treat people differently. My kneeling, the way I did it, was to symbolize that I’m kneeling for a cause, but I’m in no way or form disrespecting my country or my flag.”

CHICAGO, IL – SEPTEMBER 24: Alejandro Villanueva #78 of the Pittsburgh Steelers stands by himself in the tunnel for the national anthem prior to the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on September 24, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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