Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva was widely heralded for being the only player on his team to leave the locker room and stand outside the tunnel during the national anthem on Sunday — but there’s just one problem: he’s now saying that the entire ordeal was an accident.
“When everybody sees the image of me by myself, everybody thinks the team, the Steelers, are not behind me, and that’s absolutely wrong. I made Coach [Mike] Tomlin look bad, and that is my fault and my fault only,” he said. “I made my teammates look bad, and that is my fault and my fault only.”
So, what exactly happened, then? Here’s how ESPN recapped it:
The Steelers decided to stay in the Soldier Field tunnel during the anthem before Sunday’s loss against the Chicago Bears in response to comments made by President Donald Trump about anthem protests by NFL players.
Feeling the need to see the flag during the anthem, Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who toured several times in Afghanistan, asked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger if he could stand in front of the tunnel to get a vantage point. Roethlisberger agreed, and Villanueva ventured out while trying to gauge where the flag was. He contemplated turning back, but the anthem had already started at that point. Only the team captains — Roethlisberger and defensive end Cam Heyward — knew about this last-second arrangement.
He said that he tried to signal to his fellow players to join him so he wouldn’t be standing alone, but that it wasn’t possible. Villanueva also said it wouldn’t have looked right for him to turn back toward his team, so he ended up standing there alone, creating an image that critics of the national anthem protests have seized upon.
In the end, Villanueva said that the entire ordeal made it look like he was defying his team and as though his team wasn’t respecting the flag — something he was less than thrilled about and a scenario that he said was “embarrassing,” ESPN reported.
Watch Villanueva discuss the issue below:
Steelers news conference part II on anthem protests
Posted by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Monday, September 25, 2017
The player took responsibility for making his teammates “look bad” as well, and said that he doesn’t mind players taking a knee during the national anthem, if they so choose.
“People that are taking a knee are not saying anything negative about the military, they’re not saying anything negative about the flag, they’re just trying to protest that there are some injustices in America,” Villanueva said.
The player added that his experiences are unique to him and that he has deep respect for the flag, considering his own military service. As Faithwire previously reported, Villanueva graduated from West Point before serving as a major with the U.S. Army.
For his actions in Afghanistan, which involved rescuing wounded soldiers under enemy fire, he earned a Bronze Star for valor. While at West Point, Villanueva also played for the Army Black Knights.
“People die for the flag. There’s no way else to put it. I wish I could stay at home. I wish we could all play ‘Call of Duty’ and not have to go to war,” he said. “But some men, some women sign up for this tough challenge and they have to do it for the flag. When I see a flag on the mission on the shoulder of a soldier, that reminds me that the guy’s with me. … that’s what the flag means to me, that’s what the flag means to a lot of veterans.”