The Pittsburgh Steelers said the team won’t be on the field at all when the national anthem plays before Sunday’s game.
The decision follows a wave of backlash to President Donald Trump’s criticism of some National Football League players who chose to sit out the anthem in protest of police brutality and racial bias.
“We’re not participating in the anthem today, not to be disrespectful to the anthem, to remove ourselves from this circumstance,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said in an interview with CBS on Sunday, saying the team plans on staying in the locker room.
“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.”
— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) September 24, 2017
Trump sparked a wave of backlash from players and teams on Friday when he said NFL players should be fired for taking a knee during the national anthem. Speaking at a rally in Alabama, he specifically singled out former San Francisco 49’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whom he dubbed a “son of a b—-.”
The president’s subsequent decision to disinvite Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry on Saturday from a potential White House visit poured additional fuel on the fire.
NBA star LeBron James called Trump a “bum” on Twitter for disinviting Curry, while the Warriors themselves said they would not visit the White House.
But while the Warriors won’t celebrate the team’s victory this year with a White House visit, another team will still make the trip.
The Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday announced that the team will visit the White House despite the controversy around Trump’s comments about NFL and NBA players.
“The Pittsburgh Penguins respect the institution of the Office of the President, and the long tradition of championship teams visiting the White House,” the team said in a statement. “We attended White House ceremonies after previous championships – touring the historic building and visiting briefly with Presidents George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama – and have accepted an invitation to attend again this year.
“Any agreement or disagreement with a president’s politics, policies or agenda can be expressed in other ways. However, we very much respect the rights of other individuals and groups to express themselves as they see fit.”
Update: 3:11 p.m.
After head coach Mike Tomlin said that the team would not be participating in the national anthem, one Steeler decided to come out of the tunnel before the song played. Offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, an army ranger who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan before beginning his NFL career, chose to come out and participate, making him the lone Steeler on the field.