The Pittsburgh Steelers were noticeably absent from the field as the national anthem played on Sunday – except offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a veteran who served in the army.
While his teammates remained in the locker room, Villanueva stood alone just outside of the tunnel entrance to Soldier Field in Chicago with his hand over his heart.
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.”
However, Villanueva’s jersey is 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.)
Before facing off in London, multiple players on both the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars took a knee during the national anthem on Sunday.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan, the only non-white owner in the NFL, stood and linked arms with players Marcedes Lewis and Telvin Smith.
According to ESPN, several Miami Dolphins players donned ‘IMWITHKAP’ shirts ahead of their game against the New York Jets.
“Strength. Passion. Love. Brotherhood. Team. Unity. Commitment. Dedication. Determination. Respect. Loyalty. Work,” he captioned the image, adding the hashtag #nflplayer.
Brady also reacted to a photo posted by Aaron Rodgers, which featured the Green Bay Packers quarterback kneeling with other players. The five-time Super Bowl champion commented with a simple arm flexing emoji.
In August 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made headlines — and sparked a movement — when he took a knee during the national anthem.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said at the time. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
During a rally speech in Alabama on Friday, Trump stated, “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, you’re fired.’”
He followed this up by pouring more gasoline on the fire with a series of tweets. “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect…our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem,” he wrote. “If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”
Numerous celebrities — including Diddy — have also joined in standing behind the players, causing a resurgence of the #TakeAKnee hashtag on social media.