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Alejandro Villanueva Reflects on National Anthem Incident in 2017



Steelers Alejandro Villanueva

Former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle and Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva recently reflected on the National Anthem situation in Chicago during the 2017 season. It was a tumultuous time in the NFL and the country, and Villanueva unintentionally got caught up in the middle.

“I am known, especially by a lot of people, for the incidents surrounding the National Anthem. But I think those were incidents that were very, very misleading in terms of what we were all trying to achieve as a team,” Villanueva said as a guest speaker at an event hosted by RiseUp Outreach. “The situation that I put myself in and the outcome in a world that is trying to use the media always to pit people against each other to get more clicks.

“If we can say anything about the times right now, it’s that we feel like puppets that are being used to get pitted against each other, and that is hurting us. There was nothing to be done or nothing that could have been said that would would’ve truly showcased my intentions as a person, as a Christian, and obviously as a teammate.”

Villanueva was the only Steelers player standing outside of the tunnel during the National Anthem in Week 3 at Soldier Field during a game against the Bears. The team agreed to stay in the tunnel to not create a distraction and separation with players standing or kneeling in protest of social injustice and police brutality. They wanted unity, but Villanueva somehow was the only player standing outside of the tunnel for the national anthem.

“Unfortunately I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally,” Villanueva said after the incident in 2017. “Every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself I feel embarrassed.”

Villanueva claimed that 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 and Bears flagpole people got in the way, separating him from the rest of the team.

“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,” Villanueva said.

“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.”

Roethlisberger said after the incident that he regretted his team’s decision to stay in the locker room.

“The idea was to be unified as a team when so much attention is paid to things dividing our country, but I wish we approached it differently. We did not want to appear divided on the sideline with some standing and some kneeling or sitting,” he said in a statement.

Bears players and coaches locked arms as a team along the sidelines as a sign of solidarity prior to their game. The league-wide protest came after President Donald Trump called on NFL players who refused to stand for the anthem to be fired.

“As a team, it was not a protest of the flag or the anthem. I personally don’t believe the Anthem is ever the time to make any type of protest,” Roethlisberger continued. “For me, and many others on my team and around the league, it is a tribute to those who commit to serve and protect our country, current and past, especially the ones that made the ultimate sacrifice.

“I appreciate the unique diversity in my team and throughout the league and completely support the call for social change and the pursuit of true equality. Moving forward, I hope standing for the Anthem shows solidarity as a nation, that we stand united in respect for the people on the front lines protecting our freedom and keeping us safe. God bless those men and women.”