Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva gained notoriety on Sunday when he stood by himself for the national anthem while the rest of the team waited in the locker room tunnel.
Villanueva, an Army veteran who served three terms in Afghanistan, became something of the face of people opposed to anthem protests and was the best-selling NFL jersey by Monday.
However, the incident seemed to confuse some teammates, who believed the team had all agreed to stand in the tunnel together. Head coach Mike Tomlin had said he wanted the team to have 100% participation with whatever they chose to do.
On Monday, Villanueva apologized for the incident and explained what happened.
Villanueva told reporters that he had asked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to be at the front of the group in the tunnel so he could see the flag, an important symbol for him, even if he was okay with the Steelers’ decision to stand in the tunnel. However, Villanueva apparently walked too far out of the tunnel. And in the confusion of the Chicago Bears’ stadium, he found himself outside of the tunnel when the anthem began playing, so he decided to stand and wait.
“Unfortunately, I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally,” Villanueva said. “Every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself I feel embarrassed to a degree because unintentionally I left my teammates behind.”
Villanueva continued, saying: “I made coach Tomlin look bad, and that is my fault and my fault only. I made my teammates look bad, and that is my fault.”
Villanueva said he would support any teammates who decided to sit or kneel during the national anthem and that other players who have knelt during the anthem have thanked him for his service. Villanueva said the team “butchered” their attempt at, as he said, staying away from the situation.
Villanueva still believes in standing for the anthem, but also said he understands that players are kneeling due to social injustices, not out of criticism toward the military or disrespect for the flag. He also said he did not want to comment on US President Donald Trump’s criticisms of the NFL and those who protest the anthem.
On Monday, Roethlisberger put out a statement saying that he wished the Steelers handled the anthem differently and wants the team to show solidarity going forward. He said “there was no division” within the team.