Alejandro Villanueva, a U.S. Army veteran, broke with a decision Sunday by his fellow Pittsburgh Steelers to stay off the field during the national anthem.
Villanueva, a left tackle, stood at the entrance to the locker room tunnel in view of fans with his hand over his heart during the anthem.
Before the game against the Chicago Bears, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had said the Steelers would remain in the locker room during the anthem.
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“We’re not going to play politics,” Tomlin said. “We’re football players, we’re football coaches. We’re not participating in the anthem today – not to be disrespectful to the anthem, but to remove ourselves from the circumstance.”
More than 100 NFL players took a knee Sunday during the national anthem at stadiums across the nation to protest remarks by President Donald Trump at a Friday rally blasting former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others who refuse to stand for the national anthem.
Kaepernick refused to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” last season to protest the treatment of black people by police. He became a free agent and has not been signed by a new team for this season.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,’ ” Trump said to loud applause Friday night at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama, comments he kept echoing over the next two days.
“If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!” the president said in a Sunday morning tweet.
PennLive reports that Villanueva, a West Point graduate who earned a Bronze Star in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger, had previously said he agreed with Kaepernick’s message but not his chosen form of protest.
“I just think that shotgun blast and not standing up for America is a little bit unfair on his part because it’s not really taking into consideration the minorities that are fighting for the flag, like myself – the thousands of people that are laying their lives to make sure that he can express himself,” Villanueva said in 2016.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.