Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva says he didn’t intentionally choose to stand alone during the national anthem in Chicago.
Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, said in a press conference Monday that he felt “embarrassed” for the attention his mistake garnered.
“Unfortunately, I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally,” he said. “Every single time I see that picture of me, standing by myself, I feel embarrassed.”
Villanueva was the only Steelers player who stood outside the tunnel before their game Sunday against the Chicago Bears.The rest of his team chose not to take the field as part of the widespread NFL protest.
The former Army Ranger said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he could be out in front with the captains during the national anthem but that he went too far out.
“When we came out of the locker room into that tunnel, it was a very small area,” he said. “There was a flag or something coming off the field so there was a bunch of Bears’ fans, coming off the field holding that going in front of us, so it kind of held us up.”
“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.”
Head coach Mike Tomlin told CBS Sports about the team’s plans before the game.
“We’re not participating in the anthem today, not to be disrespectful to the anthem – to remove ourselves from this circumstance,” he said. “People shouldn’t have to choose. If a guy wants to go about his normal business and participate in the anthem, he shouldn’t be forced to choose sides. If a guy feels the need to do something, he shouldn’t be separated from his teammate who chooses not to.”
After the game, it was clear that Tomlin was unhappy that Villanueva, who served three tours in Afghanistan, had broken ranks.
“Like I said, I was looking for 100 percent participation,” Tomlin said during a post-game press conference after the Steelers’ loss to the Chicago Bears. “We’re going to be respectful of our football team. Man, these are divisive times.”
While a mistake, many applauded Villanueva and the player’s jersey was listed as the sixth top-selling jersey as of Monday morning. (ESPN Sports Business Reporter Darren Rovell noted on Twitter that search results were also factored into the ranking.)