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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Alejandro Villanueva says the national anthem ordeal has gotten out of control and he is taking the blame.
“Unfortunately, I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally,” Villanueva said in a press conference Monday.
He said the team had a meeting Saturday night before the game to discuss what they were going to do.
“Coach Tomlin gave us the guidance that we had to do it all as one, so 100 percent, in whatever it is that we had to do. There was a disagreement in what we were going to do and the only course of action was to go inside and remove ourselves from the situation,” Villanueva said.
WATCH: Villanueva’s Full News Conference —
But Villanueva ended up being the only Steelers player standing outside the tunnel for the national anthem before their game Sunday against the Chicago Bears.
Villanueva says he asked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger if he could be out in front with the captains during the national anthem and they agreed to it, but when he went to the front of the tunnel to see the flag, he went too far unintentionally.
“After the meeting, based on my unique circumstances and based on the fact that I’ve served in the Army and pretty much everything that is my life is related to the military, I asked Ben if there was a way to find inside where we were going to stay and if I could watch the national anthem from the tunnel, and he agreed. He said that the captains would be out there right behind me, and this plan morphed to accommodate this sort of tough, moral dilemma that I had in my hands,” Villanueva said.
“I asked one of the security guards when the national anthem was going to start, and he said 20 seconds, and so I just walked up and I stopped as soon as I saw the flag, as soon as I had a vantage point, that to me was enough,” he added. “There was a flag that was coming in from one of the previous celebrations, and when I turned around to sort of signal everyone else in so they wouldn’t leave me alone, that’s when they were essentially unable to exit.”
He says in that moment he was faced with the decision of walking back to join his teammates just before the national anthem or the team moving during the playing of the song.
“Essentially, what we can get out of this is that we butchered our plan to, sort of, have a response for the national anthem and respect everyone’s opinions,” Villanueva said.
During his press conference, the former Army Ranger says he is absolutely okay if teammates kneel or sit during the national anthem.
“People that are taking a knee are not saying anything negative about the military, they’re not saying anything negative about the flag, they’re just trying to protest the fact that there are some injustices in America,” Villanueva said.
He says some players who have been kneeling during anthems have even approached him before or after games and thanked him for his service, including other players in the AFC North.
KDKA’s John Shumway Reports —
Sales of Villanueva’s jerseys have skyrocketed since video of him standing outside the tunnel during the national anthem was shown on CBS.
“For anybody who thinks Coach Tomlin is not as patriotic as you can get in America, or any one of my teammates, or the owner, I take offense to that,” Villanueva said.
“I’ve made Coach Tomlin look bad, and that is my fault and my fault only,” he said. “I made my teammates look bad, and that is my fault, and my fault only. And I’ve made the Steelers also look bad, and that is my fault, and my fault only.”
When asked about if he thought President Trump should apologize for calling NFL players’ names or drawing the players into this, he said: “I don’t have anything to say about the commander-in-chief and his decisions. I’ve been following orders when I was in the military, and now, I’m not responsible enough to make a comment about the president. I stick to football. I respect if other players want to talk about the president and his decisions, but I have a lot on my plate, I have to play to a standard, I have to represent the Steelers organization, so I have nothing to comment about what the president says,” Villanueva said.
“I will support all my teammates, and all my teammates and all of my coaches have always supported me,” he said.
“Every single one of my teammates is extremely supportive and extremely patriotic in this locker room, and I can not only say that for this locker room, I can say that across the NFL,” Villanueva said.