PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Unable to sleep Sunday night, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger admits he wishes his team handled its national anthem demonstration differently.
“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,” Roethlisberger said in a statement on his website. “We did not want to appear divided on the sideline with some standing and some kneeling or sitting. As a team, it was not a protest of the flag or the Anthem.”
Prior to a 23-17 loss at Chicago, Steelers players were absent from the sideline during the playing of the national anthem. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a military veteran, stood at the entrance to the tunnel with his hand on his heart as the anthem played.
“We support Al in his decision,” guard Ramon Foster told Steelers.com. “We support us as a whole.”
Roethlisberger doesn’t feel the anthem is the appropriate time for a demonstration of any kind.
“I personally don’t believe the Anthem is ever the time to make any type of protest,” Roethlisberger wrore. “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.”
Head coach Mike Tomlin, a Hampton native who stood on the sideline with his fellow coaches during the national anthem, addressed his team’s decision.
“I heard rumblings of guys talking during the course of the day yesterday and my contention was that we not allow politics to divide us,” Tomlin said after the game. “They were not going to be disrespectful during the anthem so they chose not to participate during the anthem but at the same time many of them were not going to accept the words of the President. The big thing is that we remain united. We will not be divided by this. We have a group of men in there that come from different social economic backgrounds, races, creed, ethnicities, religions and so forth. That’s football. That’s a lot of team sports. But because of our position we get dragged into the BS.”
Steelers President Art Rooney II said, in a statement, “Our players have stayed unified and have respected the fact that, like our country, there are diverse opinions in our locker room. It is a difficult time in our country. I hope that eventually we will come together as a nation to respect the diverse opinions that exist and work together to make our communities better for all our citizens.”