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Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger: Anthem is not the time to protest

Joe Rutter
| Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, 3:45 p.m.
The Steelers' B.J. Finney block for Ben Roethlisberger against the Bears Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017 at Soldier Field in Chicago Il.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' B.J. Finney block for Ben Roethlisberger against the Bears Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017 at Soldier Field in Chicago Il.

The Steelers will no longer remain in the tunnel during the playing of the national anthem, beginning Sunday in Baltimore, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.

"We will be on the field," Roethlisberger said Monday. "What we do on the field when we're not out there has yet to be determined."

Roethlisberger and defensive end Cameron Heyward, two of the Steelers' captains, addressed the media one day after the Steelers were one of three NFL teams to stay inside during the anthem in protest of President Donald Trump's criticism of players who don't stand for the "Star Spangled Banner."

Roethlisberger and Heyward said the Steelers wanted to show unity by remaining in the tunnel at Soldier Field while the anthem played before the Steelers' game against the Chicago Bears.

However, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger and West Point graduate who did three tours in Afghanistan, stood outside in the tunnel with his hand over his heart while the anthem played.

Villanueva was the only player visible to the crowd. The players, led by Roethlisberger and Heyward, stood about 20 feet behind Villanueva.

Roethlisberger regretted that Villanueva was separated from the team but said it was not intentional.

"When we came out of the tunnel, we told Al to come stand up front with the captains," Roethlisberger said.

Roethlisberger said there was commotion before the anthem with fans exiting the field carrying a Bears flag.

"Al was down in the end of the tunnel where we told him we were going to stand together," Roethlisberger said. "By the time the chaos happened in front of us (was over) and we started to take our steps, the anthem started. We stopped to show respect for the anthem.

"I regret not going down to Al, but Al did not know that we were not there. Al thought we were standing with him. There was no division there. We were 20 feet behind him. … Out of habit, you stop, take your hat off, wait.

"Today, I wish we would have continued down."

Heyward said he and Roethlisberger reached out to Villanueva.

"He never wants to feel like he's an outsider or the center of attention," Heyward said.

Added Roethlisberger: "We never want to single one person out. We never want to leave one person behind. I know it looked like it … We wanted to make sure we reached out to Al personally. We didn't want him to feel like we didn't have his back."

Heyward said Villanueva was at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Monday. He was not immediately made available to reporters.

Roethlisberger said the players were unaware at the time that coach Mike Tomlin and three assistants were on the field for the anthem.

"We could only concern ourselves with where we were at the moment," he said.

The Steelers decided to stay in the tunnel during the anthem after a lengthy meeting at the team hotel Saturday night. Roethlisberger said players wanted to kneel, stand and sit during the anthem.

"I wish we could have stood out there, but what was important was being united," Roethlisberger said. "That's what we showed. We showed unity. That's what we need in this country right now because there is so much division."

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