President Trump and the NFL are locked in a duel, though the American people overwhelmingly side with the former on standing for the national anthem. Last Friday, the president tore into NFL players who took a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner. While other professional athletes and NFL owners issued statements slamming Trump’s remarks, 72 percent of Americans view such antics as unpatriotic. They view it as spitting in the faces of those who have served and those who continue to serve. No, these players should be fined or tossed from the league, but they should expect a huge backlash against them. Prior to their game with the Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin opted to not play politics by removing themselves from the field during the national anthem altogether. Just one player, offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who is also a former Army Ranger, stood at the entrance of the tunnel, hand over his heart. He was the hero of the day, but he got criticized for it. Even Tomlin wanted a united front in this respect, which prompted Villanueva to apologize for his actions (via Fox News):
“Unfortunately I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally,” Villanueva said. “Every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself I feel embarrassed.”
He told reporters that he had asked Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger if he could lead the team out of the tunnel with the captains, but the plan was messed up due to confusion at the end of the tunnel, reports said.
“When we came out of the locker room into that tunnel, it was a very small area. There was a flag or something coming off the field so there were a bunch of Bears fans, coming off the field holding that going in front of us, so it kind of held us up,” he said.
“I made my teammates look bad, and that’s my fault, and my fault only,” Villanueva said. “We as a team tried to figure it out, but obviously butchered it.”
Villanueva, you’re an American hero. Don’t apologize. You did things that protected us, that allowed us to live. It was Tomlin and the rest of your team that decided to botch what is a very, very simple thing in sports: standing for the national anthem. Yeah, we get the whole ‘I have a right to do it’ argument, but is this the hill to die on? Fans are not in line with management regarding this issue. Yes, we can lament how everything is political. The fact is we’ve crossed that bridge a long time ago, on issues that were similar in its remoteness from politics. That’s all finished. Maybe we can pull back, but in the age of ‘Trump is terrible, I must throw a tantrum,’ we have to deal with these antics. Just stand for the anthem and this all goes away. It’s not like these players don’t have other outlets, like Facebook, Twitter, and their celebrity status, to make their views known about whatever is bothering them. It would get as much attention. A backlash might occur, but nothing like this; at least people can understand that when these folks tweet ours social media, it’s most likely on their time. Villanueva decided to give his team some cover after he stood and honored the anthem, but he didn’t do anything wrong.
The owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers Art Rooney said that the decision to remain off the field was in no way a boycott of the national anthem:
Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II issued a statement Tuesday addressing the team's decision to remain in the locker room during the national anthem before Sunday's game, saying it was misinterpreted as a boycott.
Rooney said the players intended to "stay out of the business of making political statements by not taking the field."
"Unfortunately, that was interpreted as a boycott of the anthem -- which was never our player's intention," Rooney said.
He noted that the players "come from many different backgrounds and are united by what it means to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers."
"They want their sole focus to be on playing the game, while also coming together as a unified team," he said.
Again, a great way to avoid getting the wires crossed is to just stand for the Star-Spangled Banner. The Steelers probably would have received some good press on that; not on the game—they lost. There’s no avoiding the political aspect about this; Colin Kaepernick created this monster. It could have died with him.
Please read Guy’s take on Villanueva’s actions as well, which was written last night.